Coordinates: The 2007 Shinwar shooting, also known as the Shinwar Massacre, was the killing of a number of Afghan people on 4 March 2007, in the village of Spinpul, in the Shinwar District of the Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan. United States Marines, fleeing the scene of a car bomb attack and ambush by Afghan militants, fired on people and vehicles surrounding them, according to initial reports killing as many as 19 civilians and injuring around 50 more. The exact casualty figures have not been firmly established.
The United States Marine Corps conducted an internal inquiry from January 2008. In May that year it exonerated the Marine Corps unit, determining that it had acted "appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement". The report was condemned by the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, and by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan. Further revelations in 2010 led employees of Amnesty International and the International Bar Association to assert that there was prima facie, or superficial evidence that international humanitarian law had been violated, but could not speculate further without knowing the details of the inquiry.
In 2008 all involved troops were issued Combat Action Ribbons and one gunner was issued a Purple Heart.
In 2019 the Board for Correction of Naval Records recommended the platoon's Marine commander be retroactively promoted to lieutenant colonel with back pay, and criticized the 2007 senior commanders who failed to "respond appropriately to an enemy infomation operation and stand by the troops."
On 4 March 2007, Haji Ihsanullah, a member of Hezb-e Islami Khalis (or the Tora Bora Military Front, depending on source), drove a minivan laden with explosives into one of the vehicles making up a US military convoy, which included either three or six humvees. A US Marine was injured. Sources differ on whether or not hidden gunmen then also opened fire on the convoy. The US Marines fled the area, firing on some vehicles for between 6 and 16 miles while driving along the Afghan street.
According to several witnesses and the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, the US Marines' response to the car bombing included indiscriminate firing at passing civilians on the busy highway. They asserted that elderly men, women and children were killed. Akhtyar Gul, a local reporter who witnessed the shooting, claimed that the Marines sprayed civilians with machine gun fire even though the Marines were not under attack. These assertions would be disputed during the subsequent US Marine Corps court of inquiry.
According to Associated Press and Afghan journalists, US troops confiscated photos and videos of the incident and its aftermath. A freelance photographer working for the Associated Press claimed that two Marines and a translator asked him: "Why are you taking pictures? You don't have permission." Another photographer claimed that he had been told by US troops, through an interpreter: "Delete them [your photos], or we will delete you."
The killings were followed by widespread protests across Afghanistan and drew sharp criticism from President Hamid Karzai. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission's report asserted that: "In failing to distinguish between civilians and legitimate military targets, the US Marine Corps Special Operators employed indiscriminate force. Their actions thus constitute a serious violation of international humanitarian standards."
Major General Frank Kearney, head of the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM), ordered the entire 120-member unit out of Afghanistan pending an investigation into the incident, and announced that there was no evidence supporting the Marines' story that they had come under fire. The unit's commander and senior officer were relieved of their duties on 3 April 2007 and reassigned to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. Kearney's order to have the unit depart Afghanistan was later found by the Department of Defense's Inspector General to be within his authority, and reasonable. Compensation payments of $2,000 each were paid to the families of those killed or wounded; overall more than fifty Afghans received compensation payments.
The shooting came under investigation by both Afghanistan and the United States. On 12 April 2007, an initial investigation headed by a United States Air Force colonel was conducted, endorsed by a United States Army general. It determined that the Marines used "excessive force when they killed civilians after a suicide bombing", and referred the case to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service for a criminal inquiry; the investigation occurred two months after the shootings, with investigators only able to study the site of the shooting for an hour. The New York Times of 20 April 2007 included an article asserting that the shooting was similar to the Haditha killings.
The Pentagon issued a formal apology for the incident on 7 May 2007. "This was a terrible, terrible mistake," said US Army Colonel John Nicholson, "and my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering. We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness." Nicholson commanded Task Force Spartan, whose area of operation as defined by ISAF Regional Command East included the area of the shooting. This was dismissed as premature by General James T. Conway, Commandant of the Marine Corps, who said: "I would just as soon that no one ... apologize or talk about 'terrible, terrible mistakes'."
James Mattis, then a Marine Corps lieutenant general, ordered a court of inquiry to be held. The court at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina formally investigated the incident in January 2008, hearing from more than 50 witnesses, including Afghans, over 17 days. Much of the testimony was characterized as "vague and contradictory". The four Marines who had fired their weapons did not testify—according to Declan Walsh, writing in The Guardian of London, "because they had not been granted immunity from prosecution".
During the court of inquiry, Colonel Nicholson stated the Marines did not coordinate their operations with his command when conducting operations, and that the Marines' failure to remain at the scene of the attack amounted to failing to "preserve evidence", according to David Zucchino of the Los Angeles Times. Marines who had been present testified that they had been forced to leave the scene by a "complex ambush". One Marine testified that not all Marines in the convoy returned fire against those ambushing the convoy—return fire, he said, was limited to some gunners. This Marine elaborated that the gunners were ordered to cease fire some minutes later by a Marine captain. Testimony by Afghans, including an Afghan police lieutenant colonel, and a 1980s mujahideen commander, contradicted the testimony of the Marines. Nicholson testified that thirty minutes after US Marines left the area, other US troops arrived at the location of the minivan attack and found no dead or wounded Afghans. He speculated that this might be because Afghans collect and bury their dead quickly in line with Islamic tradition, but also acknowledged that Taliban insurgents often fake or exaggerate civilian deaths, stating "That's why it's so important for us to stay on the scene."
According to one of the Marines' defence lawyers, Mark Waple, an investigation by the US Navy estimated that the number of people killed was between five and seven, all adult men; Waple continued that despite the prior claims of massacred women and children, witness statements attested only to a wounded 16-year-old boy and a woman with an injured hand. In May 2008 the court of inquiry concluded that they had "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack."
Testimony to the inquiry was classified and not released, and the 12,000-page report was also unpublished. In March 2015, excerpts of the "key conclusions" were published in the Military Times. No criminal charges were brought, although "some officers" did receive an "administrative reprimand". The court of inquiry recommended judicial and/or administrative actions be taken upon two Marine captains and two enlisted Marines. The verdict infuriated the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission. Kubra Aman, a member of the Afghan House of Elders from Nangarhar, said "I am very angry. This is too much." The decision was also criticised by the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, whose spokesperson Aleem Siddique said "It is disappointing that no one has been held accountable for these deaths". The two Marine captains were later "cleared of wrongdoing", according to the Marine Corps Times. More than a year after the court of inquiry concluded, Marines involved received Combat Action Ribbons, and an injured turret gunner was awarded the Purple Heart.
In 2010, Mark Ellis of the International Bar Association told Channel 4 News of the UK that based on documents released by WikiLeaks, "there is prima facie evidence from the military log that suggests the troops could be investigated for war crimes" but that legal hurdles would probably prevent a hearing before the International Criminal Court (ICC). Sam Zafiri of Amnesty International took a similar line, saying that "There is certainly prima facie evidence of violations of international humanitarian law ... It's not so much about whether an investigation into what happened at Jalalabad is re-opened, but rather publish what the US military did investigate, who they talked to, what were the results and how did they arrive at the decision they came to."
In March 2015, the Military Times published a series of articles about the incident, written by Andrew deGrandpre. Fred Galvin, who commanded the Marine unit at the time of the incident, said that despite being cleared by the court of inquiry, he and his men thought that their side of the story had not been properly publicised, and that they still felt they were stigmatised as a result of the accusations. Although cleared of wrongdoing, members of the unit were adversely effected by the perception of the event.
In January 2019, the Board for Correction of Naval Records (BCNR) reported that Major Fred Galvin (USMC retired) should be promoted to lieutenant colonel and given back pay. The Board found Galvin "was beset by a perfect storm of toxic officers," following the false accusations of 2007. The Board found "The ambush of 4 March 2007 was not a tactical “misstep.” The GUI found the convoy’s response was irreproachable and found no fault relative to the Marines’ conduct and performance. The only misstep was the inability or unwillingness of Senior U.S. leaders to respond appropriately to an enemy infomation operation and stand by the troops until competent evidence was gathered."
The thirty-man platoon was hit by a suicide car bomb in the midst of heavy traffic at a village called Spinpul.
Investigation began in early 2008 for those involved in the Shinwar massacre. Six Marines were granted immunity to testify. Their testimony served to exonerate those not granted immunity, thereby infuriating Afghanistan's human rights commission.
In a videoconference to reporters at the Pentagon, he added, "We made official apologies on the part of the U.S. government" and paid $2,000 for each death.
Mero, who examined the Humvee within two days of the March 4 incident, said he was pressured by the Air Force colonel in charge of the investigation to alter his conclusions.
He said the U.S. military made payments to the families of 17 dead listed by the governor, but a later Navy investigation put the number of dead at five to seven. And despite reports that children and women had been killed, Waple said, testimony produced only a wounded 16-year-old boy and a woman with a hand injury.
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