The story of an American airstrike on an Afghan village on the night of August 21 keeps getting stranger. At first, the US military said that militants had been killed in the attack, then Afghan officials alleged that only civilians had died - over 80, including at least 50 children. The US military investigated and stuck by its story and then mobile phone video of dozens of civilian casualties, ostensibly from the strike, turned up.
Now, the US has dispatched a general to Afghanistan to look anew at the events surrounding the airstrike and re-appraise the military investigation's conclusion.
But the story has taken a new turn - it appears the original investigation relied on the corroboration of an embedded journalist when it concluded that the airstrike had, after all, only hit militants. That journalist has now been revealed to have been former Iran/Contra conspirator and FOX correspondent Colonel Oliver North.
The US military said that its findings were corroborated by an independent journalist embedded with the US force. He was named as the Fox News correspondent Oliver North, who came to prominence in the 1980s Iran-Contra affair, when he was an army colonel.
Sources close to one of the investigations said that a video film was shot by Afghan officials the morning after the attack. It corroborates the doctor’s footage but has not been made public.
In a statement released on Saturday, the commander of Nato forces, General David McKiernan, appeared to back away from previous US accounts. He said: “Following the recent operation in Azizabad, Shindand district, we realise there is a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by soldiers and local villagers. I remain responsible to continue to try and account for this disparity in numbers, but above all I want to express our heartfelt sorrow to all families that lost loved ones in this firefight.”
(Some of the mobile phone footage is at that Times link. It was shot by a doctor and the Times says "has been edited to remove the most graphic footage of dead children and adults". Even so, it's not for the faint of heart.)
As my colleague Anderson wrote at Newshoggers:
It is entirely unclear just what North did to "corroborate" US military claims of Taliban deaths, but his efforts to bolster the military stance appear about to go down in the same flames that killed 90 Afghan civilians.
While doubtful, perhaps the US military should rethink their reliance on the fantastical stories of a known bullshit artist and pathological liar, someone who by all rights ought to be in prison.
I wonder if we'll see North answer questions about what he said and why he said it on FOX? Somehow, I doubt it.
Keith Olbermann covered the airstrike massacre during his Bushed! segment, its disastrous diplomatic aftermath and North's involvement on Monday: "Realising that a) he's not a journalist b) he's not independent and c) his eye-witnessing includes seeing things that aren't really there, the US military has now reversed its stance..."