War in Afghanistan

One year after the U.S. military attacked a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, the security situation in the city is deteriorating once again.

Witnesses and police told Reuters Taliban insurgents entered Kunduz early Monday morning and attacked the governor's compound and police headquarters.

A hospital in Afghanistan paid for by the U.S. is poorly built, years late and might be too expensive for the Afghan government to run on its own in the long-term.

The findings are detailed in the latest report, published Friday, by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, a military agency set up by Congress to audit U.S. spending in the country.

An attack on a protest march by Afghanistan's minority Hazara community in Kabul has killed dozens of people.

Afghan authorities said that at least 80 people were killed and 231 were injured in the attack, according to The Associated Press and Reuters.

Flanked by his secretary of defense and the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President Obama announced that he was once again slowing the withdrawal of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

By the time President Obama leaves office, 8,400 American troops will remain in the country. Obama said this was "the right thing to do."

"It is in our national security interest ... that we give our Afghan partners the very best opportunity to succeed," Obama said.

The Afghan army commander said the treacherous road to Marjah, in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, was now safe. His forces had driven out the Taliban a few days earlier, he added.

"The road is open, so no problem," said Lt. Gen. Moeen Faqir. "Of course I hope you go there and find the reality and reflect it."

Calling a U.S. gunship attack on its hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, a "blatant breach of international law," Doctors Without Borders is calling for an independent international investigation into the attack that killed 22 people and wounded 37 more. The group views the airstrike as a war crime.

Twelve of those who died were staff members of the Paris-based charity, which says the attack went on for 30 minutes after it contacted both Afghanistan's and the coalition's military leaders.

The international aid group Doctors Without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières) is calling for an international investigation into what it calls a war crime in Afghanistan — Saturday's U.S. airstrikes that killed 22 people, including medical staff and patients at the organization's hospital in Kunduz.

The U.S. airstrike this weekend that hit a Doctors Without Borders hospital in Kunduz, Afghanistan, killing 22 civilians, was requested by Afghan forces, according to the top U.S. general in Afghanistan.

Gen. John Campbell, addressing reporters Monday at the Pentagon, said Afghan forces advised they were taking fire from Taliban insurgents and asked for U.S. air support. Campbell said he wanted to correct initial reports suggesting U.S forces were under threat and that the strike was carried out on their behalf.

A day after the Taliban seized control of the city of Kunduz, a military operation is underway to try to retake the provincial capital in northern Afghanistan. The U.S. carried out an airstrike to aid coalition and Afghan forces, according to NATO.

The fall of Kunduz is seen as "the Afghan Taliban's biggest victory since they were ousted from power 14 years ago," NPR's Philip Reeves reports.

Philip filed this report for our Newscast unit:

After his son died fighting in Afghanistan, Phil Schmidt became a walking memorial.

"At the age of 52, I got my first tattoo. So I've got a total of five of em, and I'm not done," says Schmidt, who lives in New Mexico.

Schmidt has tattoos of his son Jonathan's face, and of his son's medals, and the date that he fell in combat, Sept. 1, 2012.

Jonathan Schmidt should have been coming home from Afghanistan that month. Instead two Army officers arrived at Schmidt's home bearing the news that Jonathan had died in a firefight.

Jacquelyn Martin / Associated Press

At a White House ceremony Monday, President Barack Obama bestowed the Medal of Honor on Army Staff Sgt. Ty Carter, a Spokane native currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Carter was honored for his actions during the 2009 Battle of Kamdesh in Afghanistan.  President Obama said Carter repeatedly put his own life on the line to save others. But Obama also talked of Carter's courage in another battle, a battle here at home.

Associated Press

If history is any judge, the U.S. government will be paying for the Iraq and Afghanistan wars for the next century as service members and their families grapple with the sacrifices of combat.

An Associated Press analysis of federal payment records found that the government is still making monthly payments to relatives of Civil War veterans — 148 years after the conflict ended.

U.S. Disciplinary Barracks

The Army has announced it will seek the death penalty against Joint Base Lewis McChord soldier Staff Sgt. Robert Bales.

Currently, there are 8 men awaiting execution on military death row in Leavenworth, Kansas. Some have been there for decades.

Washington District Court Judge Jack Nevin, of Tacoma, is a retired Brigadier General who was Chief Judge of the U.S. Army Court of Criminal Appeals. He also teaches a class on military law at Seattle University Law School.

KPLU Law and Justice Reporter Paula Wissel interviewed Nevin about the differences between  military and civilian death penalty cases.

(Click on listen button above to hear the radio interview.)

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. - In eight days of hearings, Army prosecutors outlined in grisly detail the case against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the Washington soldier charged with killing and wounding 23 Afghan civilians in a rampage this past March. Bales’ pretrial hearing concluded Tuesday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

Now the Army will decide whether the evidence supports a full court martial and, if so, whether the death penalty is appropriate in this case.

Last month, we brought you the story of former Army Staff Sgt. Jarrid Starks of Salem . He was a decorated combat veteran who lost his medical benefits when he was kicked out of the Army for misconduct. He has PTSD. Since our story aired, Starks has learned he will, in fact, qualify for health care from the Veterans Administration. But, across the country, another soldier with a similar story has died tragically.

A new book that documents an attempt to rescue an Idaho soldier in Afghanistan will not likely interfere with efforts to bring him home. That’s according to at least one national security expert. The controversial book is getting attention because it describes the raid that killed Osama bin Laden. It also says in 2009, Navy SEALs went after Bowe Bergdahl’s captors too.

An Army combat engineer has become the 12th Washington-based soldier to die in Afghanistan this year. The pace of deaths has picked up in recent weeks as the summer fighting season begins.

The Army says Sgt. 1st Class Barett McNabb was killed by an improvised explosive device. He was on his fourth deployment, but his first to Afghanistan.

McNabb is just the latest soldier from Washington’s Joint Base Lewis-McChord to die in Afghanistan. May was the deadliest month so far this year with six soldier deaths.

The cemetery at Joint Base Lewis-McChord will be the site of a Memorial Day ceremony to honor fallen service members. A University of Washington graduate is among the latest Washington-based soldiers to die in Afghanistan. Army records indicate eight soldiers from the Army post near Tacoma have been killed in action so far this year.

Parents of captured Idaho soldier want prisoner swap

May 9, 2012

The Idaho parents of the only U.S. soldier in Taliban captivity say they want the Obama administration to negotiate a prisoner swap to bring their son home. Bob and Jani Bergdahl broke their long silence in new interviews, hoping to build public pressure for a deal.

JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. – Nearly four thousand Northwest-based soldiers are about to deploy for nine months to Afghanistan. The Army’s 2nd Stryker Brigade received a formal send off Friday at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Tacoma. The departure comes amid continuing fallout from the case of suspected Afghan shooter Sgt. Robert Bales.

As an Army band played, soldiers in fatigues lined up by battalion on a parade field. In the stands sat, proud and worried family members like Wendy Mertka. She fought back tears as she spoke of her son’s first deployment.

Saying that her husband "loves children, he's like a big kid himself," the wife of the U.S. Army soldier accused of killing 17 Afghan civilians on March 11 has told NBC News that the accusations against Staff Sgt. Robert Bales are "unbelievable to me."

"I have no idea what happened, but he would not ... he loves children, and he would not do that," said Karilyn Bales.

A U.S. official says Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, who had been stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, will be charged with 17 counts of murder in the massacre of Afghan villagers.

It has also come to light that Bales was accused in a second incident involving alcohol and violence.

If you haven't seen it yet, you probably will soon if you're watching the cable news networks:

Video of what appears to be a U.S. Army helicopter swooping low over a snowy base in Afghanistan last month before taking several dramatic twists, bouncing off the ground and crashing in the distance.

The "horrific killings" this month of 16 Afghan civilians, allegedly by a U.S. Army staff sergeant, will be fully investigated and "justice will be done," a top Pentagon official just told the House Armed Services Committee.

The lead attorney for the western Washington soldier accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians says his client has gaps in his memory about night of the massacre. Seattle lawyer John Henry Browne met with Staff Sergeant Robert Bales Monday for seven hours at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. That’s where Bales is being held in pretrial detention.

After the meeting, Browne told reporters that his client’s state of mind is “confused.”

“He doesn’t remember everything of the evening in question," Browne says. "That doesn’t mean he has amnesia.”

Lawyer of massacre suspect begins mounting defense

Mar 19, 2012

Attorney John Henry Browne said the meeting he had with his client Robert Bales, the Army sergeant accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians, was "just really emotional."

Browne also corrected some details of Bales' story that he had released earlier. According to the AP:

The Associated Press

The wife of the U.S. soldier held in the slayings of 16 Afghan villagers is offering condolences to the victims' families and says she too wants to know what happened.

Karilyn Bales issued a statement through a Seattle lawyer Monday, for the first time offering her comments on a case that has threatened to upend American policy over the decade-old war.

Seattle defense attorneys to meet with Bales in Kansas

Mar 19, 2012

The man accused of killing 16 Afghan civilians has had a brief phone conversation with his wife and two children. But efforts are underway to arrange a face-to-face meeting. That’s according to one of the attorneys for Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales. Bales’ defense team will spend the next two days interviewing him at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas.

Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the U.S. soldier alleged to have killed 16 Afghan civilians, was described by a former platoon leader Saturday as an "awesome" soldier.

"He always got the job done," said Cpt. Christopher Alexander, who led Bales on his second tour in Iraq. "You give this guy a task — it could be menial, it could be dangerous — either way, you never had to worry about whether he'd get it done and get it done well."

Pentagon officials say Staff Sgt. Robert Bales is the soldier suspected of killing 16 Afghan civilians, including women and children.

While a profile of him is not yet detailed, now that his name has been made public one is beginning to emerge.

Bales is a 38-year-old father of two from Lake Tapps, Wash. with a good military record. His neighbors describe him as friendly and "full of life."

His lawyer has said that he's been injured twice and that this Afghanistan deployment was his fourth tour and he was adamant about going.