March 17th, 2010, 19:50
Report alleges Afghan contractor shot Marine
INDIANAPOLIS — The Marine Corps’ investigation of the February death of an Indiana Marine in Afghanistan concludes that he was fatally shot when an Afghan security contractor fired shots at a group of Marines.
The Marine Corps’ report, obtained Wednesday by The Associated Press through a Freedom of Information Act request, says 24-year-old Lance Cpl. Joshua Birchfield of Westville was shot Feb. 19 when a security contractor working for a local company opened fire on a squad of Marines who had stopped in a dry riverbed during a combat foot patrol.
The contractor has been turned over to Afghan prosecutors for “future criminal proceedings,” Brig. Gen. Lawrence Nicholson, the top Marine in Afghanistan, wrote in an accompanying cover letter.
“This tragic event reminds us of the dangers and uncertainties of conducting counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan,” Nicholson also wrote in his letter.
The report, which found that Birchfield died in the line of duty, concludes the Marine Corps’ probe of Birchfield’s death, but the Naval Criminal Investigative Service is still investigating.
The NCIS, which investigates the noncombat deaths of Navy personnel, said in a statement Wednesday that it is focusing on the “circumstances surrounding” Birchfield’s death.
Marine Corps Lt. Col. Jefferson Kaster said Wednesday that Birchfield’s family received the report and a briefing on it Tuesday.
Birchfield’s father, Bruce Birchfield, said Wednesday that he would have no comment on his son’s death until he received the NCIS’ report. He said he expects to receive that report and release a statement by Friday.
An NCIS spokesman did not return a telephone message left Wednesday seeking additional comment on its probe.
After Birchfield’s death, the military initially said he died while supporting combat operations in Afghanistan’s Helmand province. Wednesday’s report said he actually died in the adjacent Farah province.
Although portions of the 17-page Marine Corps report were redacted, it describes the general events leading up to Birchfield’s death.
The squad was about an hour into a combat foot patrol when it arrived at the dry riverbed to “establish an observation post,” the report said.
As they arrived at the riverbed shortly before sunrise, the Marines noticed a security checkpoint manned by Afghan contractors nearby. The exact distance is redacted in the report.
About 80 minutes later, the first shots rang out from the direction of the Afghan security contractors. Members of the Marines’ squad quickly fired red, white and green flares to let the Afghan nationals know they were Marines and the shooting ended, the report said.
The Marines then realized Birchfield had been shot once in the head, and he died a short time later, it said.
The Marine Corps report includes a military e-mail sent Feb. 19 which says minutes before the shooting, one of the Afghan contractors “appeared to observe the observation post” where the Marines were located. That man then climbed from the roof and vanished behind the building and shortly thereafter the shooting began, it says.
Local Afghan companies hired and paid the contractors to safeguard their employees and equipment, according to a fact sheet prepared by the Marine Corps.
“In an inherently unpredictable environment, when independent Afghan companies contract security forces, incidents like this are possible,” the fact sheet says.
March 17th, 2010 19:50