U.S. Vice Admiral Apologizes for Afghan Deaths

A Special Forces Cover Up in Afghanistan?

When that story was challenged by the family, senior NATO officials vociferously defended the incident, criticizing a reporter who quoted the family in a story and claiming the women had defensive wounds, an implication that they had been killed by their own family.

But family members and now Afghan investigators accuse the American and Afghan special forces unit of trying to cover up the deaths.

"They committed a crime on top of a crime," says the head of the Afghan team investigating the incident, Gen. Mohammad Mirza Yarmand.

Tahir goes even further, saying he saw American troops extract bullets from the women's bodies, an explosive charge in a conservative country where American troops are generally told to avoid interacting with women, especially in southern and eastern Afghanistan.

"I saw Americans taking bullets out of the body of my sister-in-law and they were pushing me away from the scene," Tahir said. "When I told them, 'Let me take them to hospital,' they said, 'Don't worry, the helicopter will be coming and we will take care of them.'"

Yarmand says the family found one bullet that was left inside one of the women.

A military spokesman denies any cover-up, saying in a statement to ABC News, "We have discovered no evidence that any of our forces did anything to manipulate the evidence or the bodies at the scene," according to Lt. Col. Joseph Breasseale, the deputy chief of public affairs for NATO forces in Kabul.

But the incident so inflamed the family, the father initially vowed to take revenge, "even if it breaks me into pieces."

"I have lost patience. I am obliged to revenge my martyrs," he told an ABC News cameraman on March 18. "I will destroy everything I have and will launch my own suicide attack. My heart is burning."

But today the father forgave, a lesson in the importance of cultural sensitivity, especially in a region dominated by people who follow a strict, centuries-old set of principles known as Pashtunwali.

McRaven asked for that forgiveness -- an act called Nanawati in Pashto -- one day after Afghan investigators presented their findings of the incident to Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the head of all foreign forces in Afghanistan.

McChrystal ordered McRaven to go for Nanawati, according to a U.S. military official, who said this was not the first time American troops have performed such an act.

McChrystal has made reducing civilian casualties a cornerstone of his policy since arriving in Kabul late last spring, an acknowledgement that perhaps more than any other action, civilian deaths can push Afghans away from the government and toward the insurgency.

To a certain extent, he has been successful. Last year, according to the United Nations, the number of civilians killed by international troops dropped to 596 from 828.

In the last month, McChrystal has brought more special forces troops under his control, and he has restricted how special forces can conduct raids at night, demanding that Afghans remain in the lead the entire way, although it's not clear whether the forces who conducted the raid on Feb. 12 are under his direct control.

"Despite their effectiveness and operational value, night raids come at a steep cost in terms of the perceptions of the Afghan people," McChrystal wrote in a directive released on March 5. "Night raids must be conducted with even greater care, additional constraints, and standardization throughout Afghanistan."

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