Inside the Afghan Kill Team's Four-Month Killing Spree

Officers long ignored suspicious signs, writes Mark Boal for 'Rolling Stone'
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Mar 28, 2011 7:49 AM CDT
Inside the Afghan Kill Team's Four-Month Killing Spree
US Army Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs is shown in this courtroom sketch, Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2010 in a military courtroom on Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state.   (AP Photo/Courtroom Sketch by Peter Millett)

How did the US Army's self-proclaimed "kill team" get away with murdering unarmed Afghan civilians for so long, with little to no intervention by officers? That's the question Hurt Locker screenwriter Mark Boal addresses in a lengthy Rolling Stone article on the murders and the cover-ups, in which no officers or senior officials have yet been charged. Boal traces the evolution of the plot, from the moment Staff Sgt. Calvin Gibbs joined the 5th Stryker Brigade's Bravo Company as squad leader for the 3rd Platoon. Gibbs, who replaced a squad leader whose legs had been blown off by an IED, was already "an extreme version of a relentless attacker," writes Boal. His new squad was suffering from low morale, and Gibbs had a solution: Hatch a plot within the troops to avenge their losses by killing civilians and hiding the evidence.

Gibbs has been portrayed as a "crazy" sociopath, but Boal reports that Gibbs was actually well-liked by those both above and below him in the ranks. The article tracks the platoon's actions from the first kill last January—a teenage boy in the isolated farming village of La Mohammad Kalay, whose finger Gibbs sliced off as a trophy—through those that followed over the next four months, claiming at least three more innocent lives. The soldiers involved were never disciplined or punished, and they got bolder as leadership continued to seemingly ignore their activities, despite warning signs and suspicious details. Boal shows that, far from the "rogue unit" the Army framed it as, the "kill team" actually operated quite openly, and the murders were common knowledge among the platoon. Furthermore, he writes, there is "evidence that the killings of civilians went beyond a few men in 3rd Platoon." Click for the full piece, which also includes newly released—and very graphic—photos. (More Kill Team stories.)

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