About the Case
In July 2012, while serving as a Rifle Platoon leader in a remote sector of Kandahar Province Afghanistan, First Lieutenant Lorance's platoon embarked on what was seemingly a normal combat patrol. 1LT Lorance's patrol, consisting of 16 US Infantrymen, 5 Afghan National Army Soldiers, and 1 US Interpreter, left their Strong Point early in the morning on July 02, 2012 to a neighboring village. The platoon knew this village all too well, as only days before, one of their brothers, a US Soldier, had been shot in the neck in this very village.
Having constant contact with overhead US Army helicopters, it would soon become apparent to 1LT Lorance that the platoon was headed into enemy held territory. Army pilots warned 1LT Lorance over the radio of enemy presence to the North, East and West of the Platoon's position on the ground. LT Lorance confirmed with the pilots a good description of the enemy, and pilots continued to track and provide overhead surveillance for LT Lorance's Infantry platoon who was traveling on foot in the mine-riddled Afghan terrain. The Soldiers were operating in a terrain that the Army had deemed too dangerous to drive vehicles due to the expensive damage to vehicles as a result of mine explosions. In an effort to preserve their vehicles, the Infantrymen walked everywhere on foot, behind hand-held mine-detectors and explosive-detective dogs.
A dirt road was situated between the small base and the village, which had been restricted to military and police use only. This road had been lined with concertina wire, so as to reduce the Taliban's freedom of maneuver. This restriction had been in place for several months prior to Lorance's arrival. It was a common Taliban tactic to run from US Forces on their motorcycles to the river to the South of the base, out of Lorance's platoon's area of operations (sort of like a jurisdiction, keeping military units properly aligned on the battlefield).
As the platoon made their way across the road and through the concertina wire, a two wheeled motorcycle bearing three military-aged males came down the road at a higher-than-normal rate of speed. As the motorcycle approached, the men were pointing at the Soldiers' positions. Trial testimony proved that back at Headquarters and simultaneously, radio signals were being intercepted by US intelligence Soldiers which clearly indicated that someone was pointing out via radio the positions of the US Troops on the ground. These radio intercepts were being translated into English and relayed via secure military radio to LT Lorance on the ground. These Taliban were clearly setting up for an ambush.
As the motorcycle approached the patrol, one of Lorance's Soldiers, a former NC traffic policeman, yelled back to the LT and said the motorcycle was coming at a faster-than-normal rate of speed and asked for permission to fire. The Taliban showed no indication of slowing down and ignored the Afghan Soldiers' verbal and visual warnings to stop. The lieutenant had 3-5 seconds to react to this threat before the bike reached his men, who were tactically vulnerable because the patrol was in the middle of crossing the road, LT Lorance granted his Soldier permission to fire. The Soldier fired, and missed. Consequently, the Taliban broke through Lorance's formation and began to circle back around.
The motorcycle came to a stop under a tree a few hundred meters from Lorance's position. The Taliban dismounted and began walking aggressively toward the patrol. The Afghan Soldiers who were in front of Lorance's men instinctively raised their weapons and prepared to fire, shouting at the men to stop. The men ignored the Afghan Army's commands. This is all happening in seconds. Considering that these men just broke through a US Army/Afghan Army formation, even though they were being shot at, and then continued to approach the patrol, and having mere seconds to react, LT Lorance chose to ensure the safety of his men and engage the Taliban. The LT ordered his Soldiers to fire, killing two of the men, one ran away.
Later on in that same patrol, the Soldiers detained that man who had ran away, he later tested positive for homemade explosives residue on his hands. During this patrol, a separate element of Lorance's platoon on the other end of the village engaged and killed two Taliban who were visually observing and communicating that they saw the Soldiers' position on the rooftop. A second man was captured while attempting to flee the village by another element of Lorance's platoon. This man also tested positive for homemade explosives residue.
It is important to consider that, though the men Lorance ordered killed did not have any weapons on them, their motorcycle was taken away by another Afghan a few minutes after the engagement. Only weeks later in a similar area of Afghanistan, a two wheeled motorcycle was driven into a market where US Soldiers were patrolling and the Taliban on the bike detonated a deadly amount of explosives which were affixed to the bike. The leader of that patrol did not take the actions Lorance did, and his patrol suffered heavy casualties that day.
Intelligence reports for the area identified any personnel owning or operating a motorcycle as Taliban, as there were no local population living there. The local population had long since moved out of the area because it had been taken over by the Taliban. Essentially, if they were in this area, they were up to no good. The only other non-Taliban actors in this area were farmers who commuted from their homes south of the river to farm the land that had been left abandoned.
July 1, 2012 was the official start of "Afghan in the Lead". The US Generals and chain of command did not specifically delineate what this meant. When asking his Company Commander before taking command of his platoon in late June, LT Lorance sought clarification as to what exactly "Afghan in the Lead" meant. The Company Commander replied with "if the Afghans don't want to patrol, we don't patrol". This guidance was vague. US Generals should have very clearly specified the modification, if any, to the current rules of engagement. Many platoons simply stopped patrolling, which set the stage for the Taliban to retake the territory. When the US is absent, there is a power vacuum. LT Lorance knew that in order to protect his men, his platoon must continue to patrol often. Many US officers' response was simply to let the Afghan Soldiers do what they want, after all, it is their country. Lorance was not of this belief. Lorance believes that if any unit or joint-patrol that a US participates in must abide by US laws. Essentially, Lorance was not comfortable letting the poorly trained Afghan Soldiers call the shots.
Upon return to base, Lorance ordered both of the captured men be tested for explosives residue on their hands. Both men tested positive, confirming Lorance's suspicions that the men had handled explosives recently. Lorance also ordered the men entered biometrically into the platoon's computer to check for past criminal history. Then men both gave a "John Doe" name when asked, negating the computer check.
1LT Lorance then ordered that both men be physically separated, put into a shaded area, and be given food and water. Both men refused food, but drank water. When the Afghan Police arrived and asked Lorance for permission to interrogate the prisoners, Lorance denied the Police access to the prisoners and declared them under US custody, as such, they would be treated in accordance with US Army laws for treatment of prisoners. These laws mandate that the US personnel must protect anyone in their custody from interrogation or unjust treatment. 1LT Lorance instructed his men to guard the prisoners and not talk to them. 2-3 hours later, the prisoners were transported to the Detainee processing facility at the Brigade Headquarters.
Even though both men tested positive for explosive residue and were acting suspiciously and acted exactly as all other Taliban do in the area, Lorance's higher HQ assumed they were innocent due to political reasons. The Army assumed Lorance guilty of random acts of murder, fired him from being a platoon leader, took his weapon away--in a combat zone-- and moved him to headquarters to assume administrative duties while awaiting the investigation.
The members of Lorance's platoon have since made efforts to protect themselves by testifying against Lorance in exchange for immunity. Lorance is the only person in this incident to face any criminal charges.
Each of the above circumstances were validated by witness testimony, while under oath, during the court martial.
Something to think about:
July 2012 was an important time for senior US officials in Afghanistan. Civilian casualty allegations across the battlefield were beginning to complicate the end-of-war transition negotiations to include a similar incident that happened only weeks before in the same area by a different infantry unit as well as a mass killing of Afghans by a US Soldier that made international news. Sufficed to say, this sent Army officials needed someone to harshly punish in order to show the Afghan government we will take care of our own. Keep in mind that this is all happening as the US and Afghan governments are discussing a "status of forces agreement" between the two nations. That is, the US guarantees that if Americans commit crimes, they will be dealt with swiftly by US justice system. US officials needed an example to drive this point home at this pivotal time in transition. Enter 1LT Clint Lorance.
Decide for yourself. We send our Soldiers to fight a war where civilians and enemy look alike. They are walking through fields of land mines designed specifically not to kill but to maim and mutilate. How is the US Government going to turn around and accuse these brave soldiers of murder. What would you do in this situation?