When U.S. officials discovered that an unvetted 15-year-old had been allowed access to the base — and the weapons strewn around it — they were furious.
“These were jihad-motivated executions,” said a Western official in Afghanistan with knowledge of the incident. To suggest otherwise would be “profoundly distasteful and insulting to the Marines who died.”
Jan, the police chief, said Aynoddin was “given” to him as a personal assistant by a local elder and Afghan Local Police commander. Jan assumed the boy was a police officer, he said, even though he wasn’t wearing a uniform.
Police officers in Garmsir say Aynoddin skulked around the base, keeping to himself. Afghan and NATO officials now speculate that the boy was waiting for the right opportunity to attack foreign troops. He chose a moment when the Marines were unarmed and the Afghan police officers were gathered to break their daily Ramadan fast. A classified investigation into the incident is ongoing, but some officials with knowledge of the attack spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.
The Marines who Aynoddin killed were part of a U.S. advisory team attached to the Afghan Uniformed Police, a branch of the national police. In Garmsir, a district once on the front lines of NATO’s surge to vanquish the Taliban from southern Afghanistan, such advisory teams now play a crucial role in the swift U.S. drawdown. The Marines in Garmsir dropped from a battalion to a company this spring, consolidating their footprint from over 60 bases to three.
With far fewer troops, the Marines shifted from a combat role to a mission devoted largely to training their Afghan counterparts — a preview of how U.S. involvement in Afghanistan will evolve over the next two years. In Garmsir, that change in mission meant getting closer to Afghan soldiers and police, trusting that physical proximity would strengthen the relationship rather than damage it.
There were 32 men on the Marines’ police training team in Garmsir. Not only did they work every day at the district police headquarters, they lived there as well, on a part of the Delhi base separated from the U.S. operations center by a small checkpoint. The Marines knew there were risks involved in that living arrangement, but they said it was crucial to building trust.
“The Afghan police and the Marines had a good relationship,” said one Marine on the team, who arrived at the grisly scene shortly after the attack. “A few of the Afghan police even broke into tears afterwards when they realized what had happened.”