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Afghanistan shooter "proud" that "we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants" in 2007 battle in Iraq?

The Army has released the name of the suspect in last weekend's shooting rampage in Afghanistan, Staff Sgt. Robert Bales:

His lawyer, John Henry Browne, said on Thursday that the suspect was a 38-year-old man who had been injured twice while serving in Iraq.

He also said the accused had witnessed his friend's leg blown off the day before the killings.

A 2009 news article on the Army website, which has been removed but is still available in Google's cache, quotes a Staff Sgt. Robert Bales (it's not confirmed that this is the same Bales) who participated in the Battle of Zarqa, also known as the Battle of Najaf -- a bloody confrontation between Iraqi security forces, assisted by U.S. and British troops, and the radical Shiite group, the Soldiers of Heaven: 

The twilight had turned to darkness, through which the Charger platoons prepared to maneuver around the helicopter. Clemmer issued orders to his platoon leaders to envelop the crash. As the platoons stepped off, AK-47s opened up from four huts to the north.

"The SF was still in control of the birds at that point," Butler said. "That's when the first Hellfire went off." "It was like a match lit up," said Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, team leader in C Company's 1st Squad, 1st Platoon. "It looked like a toy with a candle lit underneath it. Fire straight up."

The account speaks of an intense battle between U.S. forces -- Lt. Col. Barry Huggins' 3rd Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division Stryker battalion -- and a "well armed Shiite paramilitary faction" on Jan. 28 and 29, 2007.

The mortar section fired missions and alternately dug in. By the early morning, the 60 mm tubes were ensconced inside fighting positions. The platoons on the crash-site perimeter were also using shovels in throwback defensive tactics.

"The cool part about this was World War II style, you dug in," Bales said. "Guys were out there digging a fighting position in the ground. You're taking a shovel and digging as fast as you can."

But most remarkable about the battle, writes reporter Don Kramer, was that:

In the end, the most important metric was the casualty count: 250 enemy fighters killed, 81 wounded and 410 detained and not a single 2-3 Inf. Soldier hurt or killed. Sophisticated, relentless firepower defeated superior numbers on ground of the enemy's choosing....

What cannot be measured occurred at the end of the battle. Defining 'agility,' American Soldiers seamlessly shifted into humanitarian operations."

Here, Bales appears in the narrative again:

After a while, however, the clearing operation morphed with the humanitarian. As Soldiers pulled out the injured, it became apparent to their horror that these fanatics had brought their families to the fight.

"Once we started clearing the town we actually started carrying people back out," said Staff Sgt. Bales, a team leader in 1st Platoon, C Co. "We'd go in, find some people that we could help, because there were a bunch of dead people we couldn't, throw them on a litter and bring them out to the casualty collection point."

And here's where it gets a little bit creepy:

"I've never been more proud to be a part of this unit than that day," Bales said now a member of 2-3 Inf. headquarters, "for the simple fact that we discriminated between the bad guys and the noncombatants and then afterward we ended up helping the people that three or four hours before were trying to kill us. I think that's the real difference between being an American as opposed to being a bad guy, someone who puts his family in harm's way like that." [Ed. italics added].

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The U.S. and Egypt: A friendly status quo

After it was reported this morning that the United States intends to "release at least a portion of $1.5 billion in aid to Egypt," a Brookings Institute Panel this afternoon discussed the future of U.S.-Egypt relations. Shadi Hamid, the director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center, said he thinks this sends the wrong message given the  current the NGO crisis:

"I think it sends a very dangerous message that right now we're going to resume military aid even though Egypt is essentially waging war on civil society...There's a sense that the Obama administration will back down when push comes to shove, and the Egyptian military is right to think that because we are about to back down, and that sets a precedent for future governments...It sends the message that U.S. threats are hollow."

Hamid added that U.S. favorability ratings in Egypt during the Obama administration have been lower than under the last year of the Bush administration, and that the President's Cairo speech has changed nothing:

"Contrary to the perception that the Cairo speech brought about this new beginning, this new era in U.S.-Arab world relations in the region, that's not quite the way it worked out...The SCAF has in some ways manufactured this [NGO] crisis, but they're also tapping into something that's very much there in Egyptian society."

According to visiting fellow Khaled Elgindy, not much has changed on the Egyptian side either:

"All of what we've seen is actually less a shift in U.S.-Egypt relations than a deepening or acceleration of preexisting trends."

The turning point for the U.S.-Egypt relationship, notes Saban Center for Middle East Policy director Tamara Cofman Wittes, is on the horizon.

"It didn't come last year with the revolution itself, it's coming now as this transitional period comes to a close with the presidential elections and the anticipated handover of executive authority to a civilian government in June."

The U.S. is going soft, Egyptians have always disliked America, and bilateral relations are business as usual. Same old, same old.

 

GIANLUIGI GUERCIA/AFP/Getty Images