Dates on this timeline reflect the emergence of the controversy, not necessarily the date of the event.
John Walker Lindh, “American Taliban,” Persecuted in Public
Soon after the start of the war in Afghanistan, 20-year-old American John Walker Lindh was among more than 80 Taliban fighters captured by U.S. forces. Born in Silver Spring, Maryland, Lindh was raised Roman Catholic, but he converted to Islam at 16. In 2001, he traveled to Afghanistan and joined the Afghan army. According to his father, Lindh wanted to protect Muslims in Afghanistan from the Northern Alliance and had little involvement with the terrorism for which the Taliban has become infamous. Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence in a U.S. prison.
Detainee Deaths at Bagram Prison Ruled Homicides
In 2005, The New York Times obtained a copy of a 2,000-page confidential report detailing the U.S. Army’s criminal investigation into the torture and deaths of two unarmed civilian prisoners in the Bagram Theater Internment Facility in December 2002. U.S. military coroners ruled that the deaths of Dilawar, a 22-year-old taxi driver, and another detainee, Habibullah, were homicides. Seven soldiers were charged and more than two dozen were implicated. Dilawar’s death was the subject of Taxi to the Dark Side, Alex Gibney’s Academy Award-winning documentary.
Photos of German Soldiers Desecrating Skull Spark National Outrage Over War
The German tabloid Bild shocked the nation when it published photographs of German soldiers playing with a human skull the soldiers had found while on patrol. Officials struggled to contain public outrage against an already unpopular war.
Helicopter Crash Calls Attention to Gray Area of Private Contractors in Afghanistan
German Citizen Held and Tortured by U.S. Military Despite Lack of Evidence
Danish Public Stunned When Soldiers on “Peacekeeping” Mission Are Shown in Firefight with Taliban
The documentary Armadillo shocked Denmark and the rest of Europe with its footage of a dizzying firefight that appears to show International Security Assistance Force soldiers from Denmark executing wounded Taliban fighters and then celebrating having killed the enemy. The Danish public, which previously had been largely supportive of the war effort, was disabused of the idea that Danish troops were in Afghanistan on a peacekeeping mission.
POV: “‘Armadillo’ in Context”
Private Security Firms Again the Subject of Controversy
The Project on Government Oversight accused employees of ArmorGroup North America, a private security firm hired to guard the U.S. embassy in Kabul, of drunkenness and “near-weekly deviant hazing and humiliation of subordinates.” A review resulted in ArmorGroup losing its contract, but in early 2011 an investigation revealed that ArmorGroup was still protecting the embassy.
Danish Government Fails to Prevent Release of Alleged Security-Threatening Memoir
The Danish ministry of defense tried to ban Afghanistan war veteran Thomas Rathsack’s memoir, Jæger — i krig med eliten (Commando: At War with the Elite), claiming it revealed sensitive military information, but a Copenhagen court threw out the case. The book was published in its entirety in the newspaper Politiken earlier in 2009 and a ban could not prevent “the unwanted spread of the information.”
President Hamid Karzai, Symbol of Post-Taliban Politics, Is Re-elected Amid Questions of Corruption
In 2009, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai was re-elected in what seemed like a landslide victory. But it was soon revealed that a large number of ballots cast for Karzai had been rigged. After heavy pressure from officials from the United States and Britain, Karzai eventually agreed to a runoff election. The election did not occur, because Karzai’s most serious challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from the race.
Pentagon Obstructs Release of Photos That May Show Detainee Abuse
Defense Secretary Robert Gates issued an order to block the release of photos reminiscent of those taken at Baghdad’s Abu Ghraib prison that may depict abuse of military detainees, saying their disclosure could endanger troops abroad. President Barack Obama initially supported the release, but later reneged, reportedly after meeting with military advisers.
President Obama Announces Plans for a Drawdown and a Surge
In December 2009, President Barack Obama announced a plan to start bringing American forces home from Afghanistan in mid-2011, but not before an additional 30,000 troops were deployed “so that they can target the insurgency and secure key population centers” and “accelerate handing over responsibility to Afghan forces.”
After a Bomb Kills Dozens of Civilians, Legal Maneuver Frees Germans from Criminal Prosecution
On September 4, 2009, Germany bombed two hijacked fuel trucks in northern Afghanistan. Though the army initially denied any civilian casualties had occurred, investigations later revealed that 91 of the 142 dead were civilians. In a move that protected the German army against criminal prosecution, the government reclassified its presence in Afghanistan as “non-international armed conflict.” The government, no longer liable for the civilian deaths, offered $5,000 to the family of each victim for “humanitarian reasons.”
NATO Forces Take Time to Admit to Killing Civilians in Botched Raid
In a hit to its credibility, NATO admitted that its forces had killed five civilians in a February 12, 2010, raid in Gardez, Afghanistan. NATO had originally claimed the civilians, two government officials and three women, had been found dead in what appeared to be an honor killing, but the Times of London determined the troops had removed bullets from the victims’ bodies in a cover-up.
The Christian Science Monitor: “Afghanistan war: NATO under fire over civilian casualties, Karzai criticism”
The Times: “US special forces ‘tried to cover-up’ botched Khataba raid in Afghanistan”
WikiLeaks Releases Afghan War Diary
WikiLeaks shared a trove of classified Afghanistan war documents with The Guardian, The New York Times and Der Spiegel, including more than 90,000 intelligence reports and a video of a helicopter attack. Military prosecutors pressed charges against Bradley Manning, an army intelligence analyst, as the source of the documents. WikiLeaks head Julian Assange remains a controversial figure, both lauded and demonized for his role as a whistleblower.
Photo: Julian Assange (Flickr user acidpolly, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
Rogue “Kill Team” Accused of Murdering Afghans
Five U.S. soldiers based in Kandahar, members of what has been dubbed a “kill team,” were accused by military prosecutors of deliberately killing Afghan civilians. The soldiers allegedly collected body parts as trophies and took thousands of photos documenting their exploits. Seven others in their battalion were charged with conspiracy or attempting to cover up the team’s actions. Corporal Jeremy Morlock, who is now serving a 24-year prison sentence, told Rolling Stone, “We were operating in such bad places and not being able to do anything about it. I guess that’s why we started taking things into our own hands.”
Canadian Forces May Face War Crimes Investigation
A report published by The Globe and Mail suggested Canadian complicity in the systematic abuse of detainees in Afghan custody. Further investigation by a Canadian law professor uncovered evidence of abuse of prisoners in Canadian rather than Afghan custody. The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Luis Moreno-Ocampo, said he would investigate the war crime allegations if the Canadian government did not.
Osama Bin Laden Killed
Almost 10 years after the attacks of September 11, 2001, President Barack Obama announced that U.S. forces had killed Osama bin Laden in Abbottabad, Pakistan, a populous city that is home to both a large Pakistani military base and a Pakistani army military academy. The mission created a rift between the Inter-Services Intelligence Directorate, Pakistan’s intelligence agency, and the CIA.
President Obama Orders Drawdown of Troops from Afghanistan
President Barack Obama announced that the United States will withdraw 10,000 troops from Afghanistan this year and bring home another 23,000 by the end of summer 2012. His decision to reduce the number of troops in Afghanistan had the support of Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but military commanders worried that pulling American troops too soon would encourage Taliban leaders to bide their time and emerge stronger.
Note: Video embedded in this timeline is archival, and was not produced by POV, PBS or the filmmakers of Armadillo.