On August 13, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on the tragic death of US Marine Capt. Matthew Manoukian. The Chron cited a Pentagon report that claimed the Los Altos Hills native was killed "while conducting combat operations" in Helmand province, Afghanistan. Chronicle reporter Henry K. Lee should have questioned the Pentagon's account.
The Chronicle inexplicably repeated a misleading Associated Press report that Manoukian and two other marines were killed "at a police checkpoint." This should have raised a red flag: Were the marines killed "in combat" or at a "police checkpoint"?
Had the Chronicle tried to resolve this inconsistency, it would have discovered the truth: Manoukian and two other marines (Staff Sgt. Sky R. Mote, 27, of El Dorado, Calif., and Marine Gunnery Sgt. Ryan Jeschke, 31, of Herndon, VA) were shot and killed after sitting down to share a meal with an Afghan colleague in his home — a situation that would not typically be characterized as "conducting combat operations."
The Military Times correctly reported that all three Marines were "shot by an Afghan policeman." Sangin district of chief Mohammad Sharif, told the Associated Press: [T]he shooting happened at a police checkpoint after a joint meal and a security meeting."
Somehow the Chronicle apparently missed the AP's earlier story — filed on August 10 — in which it was reported: "An Afghan police officer shot and killed three US Marines after sharing a meal with them before dawn Friday and then fled into the desolate darkness of southern Afghanistan, the third attack on coalition forces by their Afghan counterparts in a week." (These killings brought the yearly count of coalition soldiers killed by their Afghan partners to 31 – a nearly three-fold increase in so-called "green-on-blue" killings over all of 2011.)
According to AP reporter Kay Johnson, the district chief and the Taliban each identified the killer as an Afghan National Police officer named Asadullah who had worked closely with the Americans, "helping the Marines train the Afghan Local Police." A Taliban spokesman subsequently claimed that, shortly after the killings, Asadullah joined the Taliban insurgency. "Now, he is with us," Qari Yousef Ahmadi said.
A 70-page report prepared by US Army behavioral scientists in 2011, suggests that such killings are likely to continue to increase as the US occupation of Afghanistan is set to enter its 11th year. The Army investigation warned that many Afghan security personnel see American troops as "extremely arrogant, bullying and unwilling to listen to their advice." They also accused the Americans of a lack of concern for Afghans' safety, a lack of respect for female privacy and a lack of basic civility — routinely addressing Afghans with denigrating slurs.
The report found the situation is deteriorating on the US side as well, with American troops accusing their Afghan counterparts of "pervasive illicit drug use, massive thievery, personal instability, dishonesty, no integrity."
Responding to the troubling increase in green-on-blue violence, NATO spokesman Brig. Gen. Gunter Katz insisted: "We are confident that those isolated incidents will have no effect on transition or on the quality of our forces."
Shortly after Katz issued his optimistic assessment, two men wearing Afghan army uniforms shot and killed a US soldier in Paktia province (wounding two others in the process). Two days later, two well-armed Afghan soldiers attempted to murder a group of NATO troops near a base in eastern Afghanistan.
In misreporting the circumstances surrounding the death of Matthew Manoukian — a dedicated soldier and a gifted young man who was preparing to leave the Marines in 2013 to pursue a career as a lawyer — the Chronicle has muddied the record. Readers are left to wonder: Was this simply an instance of poor reporting or was it an intentional effort to cover up another troubling incident of green-on-blue violence? If the latter, the Chronicle owes Captain Manoukian's family an apology for distorting the truth and, in so doing, dishonoring the record of three US Marines.