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Friendly Fire

by Geraldo Rivera | Jan 17, 2014

For the last 12 years I have been haunted by a slanderous hatchet job by a left-wing public radio reporter who worked at the time for the Baltimore Sun. David Folkenflik's December 2001 story essentially accused me of pretending to witness an incident of friendly fire in Afghanistan. As I explained in an on-the-air apology to my audience and via satellite phone from Tora Bora to Folkenflik himself, (he's a TV critic who has never covered combat), I made an honest mistake.

In the fog of war, on a day I narrowly escaped a sniper's bullet, I confused the aftermath of a friendly fire incident I covered in Tora Bora, with a more widely reported friendly fire incident several hundred miles away in Kandahar.

Folkenflik's editor, William K. Marimow did write me privately praising my 'grit and courage' in combat. Further, he assured me that he did not believe I intended to deceive our audience. Still, after a two month long review process during which I made available to The Sun all our video, air and out-takes of the Tora Bora incident the paper refused to retract or clarify its report publicly.

Since 2001, Folkenflik has essentially based his entire career, much of it taxpayer-supported, on being the man who successfully cut Geraldo Rivera and Fox News down to size.

There are no documents or sources alleging that I intentionally committed this calumny.  There is no explanation of how I could ever think to get away with pretending to be on one side of Afghanistan when I was obviously on the other side of the country. So why didn't the Sun believe my contention that I had made a simple mistake, confusing one incident of friendly fire with another?

The whole dispute comes down to this.

Folkenflik had a single source in the military who suggested that there was no friendly fire incident in Tora Bora. In other words, I could not confuse the friendly fire incident I reported with the friendly fire incident in Kandahar because there was no friendly fire in Tora Bora. Editor Marimow wrote me that a Pentagon official, "Marine Lt. Col. David Lapan said he did not recall any friendly fire incidents in Tora Bora around December 5, the day before your report."

There have been hundreds of friendly fire tragedies, some documented, some not, that have inflicted widespread death and destruction in Afghanistan, straining our relations with the Karsai government, and putting at risk all the blood and treasure that we have shed there. Here is one specific report concerning Tora Bora. Note the date of the release. Google this if you care about the truth.

It comes from DOCTORS WITHOUT BORDERS, MEDECINS SANS FRONTIERES.

MSF Calls Upon Warring Parties to Spare Afghan Civilians

Many Civilian Casualties From Bombing of Tora Bora

New York/Peshawar, December 5, 2001 — The international medical relief organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) today reported that it and other aid organizations had transported dozens of casualties from the bombing campaign on Tora Bora to Jalalabad hospital. Since the bombings began on December 1, aid workers have transported more than 80 dead and 50 wounded civilians, including many women and children, by ambulance to Jalalabad. The casualties came not only from Tora Bora, but also from the nearby villages of Pachir, Wazir, and Agam.

Frustrated that the Anti-Fox/Mainstream Media refused to hear my side of this controversy, at great risk, my team and I returned to Tora Bora on September 11, 2002 to mark the first anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks that started the Afghan War. It was a relatively simple process to track down eyewitnesses to the widely remembered friendly fire tragedy that happened on the first day of the critical offensive in December 2001.  On the same "hallowed ground" where it happened, I interviewed a 25-year-old fighter named Sheer Ahbad who described three of the victims.

"They were Mujahedeen, (anti-Al Qaeda, anti-Taliban Afghan fighters, i.e., our allies)," Ahbad said on tape.

When we left the area, which had become dangerous to Americans as the war raged on, the task of evidence gathering was left to our Afghan stringer Akbar Shinwari.  Akbar taped an interview with Sultan Mahmood, a member of the provincial military commander, Hazrat Ali's staff. Sultan was one of our guides at Tora Bora during our original December 2001 trip.  The interview was conducted at the Jalalabad Airport where Mahmood was the head of security for the U.S. Special Forces base there.  As the tape shows his U.S. issued identity card reads, "SULTAN, ALPHA COMPANY, 1st CORPS, RANK: COMPANY XO No. 86."

Mahmood tells Akbar on tape that he remembers the incident of the Mujahedeen fighters accidentally killed and injured on the first day of the assault on Tora Bora (December 5th), and that we were there to tape the event.  "They were Mujahedeen from our side," he recalls.  "These people were killed by the B-52 bombing on Tora Bora."

Mahmood then recommended that Akbar visit the village of Agam to speak with other eyewitnesses.

In Agam, Akbar found and later interviewed several including, Sayed Alam, 20, and Abdul Sapar, 20, both Mujahedeen fighters also near the frontline at the time of the bombing.  Alam recalls during a taped interview done at the scene, "…this was the frontline where we were fighting against Taliban and Al Qaeda and we were here when a B-52 dropped a bomb here and 3 of our Mujahedeen were killed here and more of them were injured."

All the stories are consistent, 3 dead, others injured by friendly fire on the first night of the Tora Bora battle, December 5th.  None harbors any animosity toward the United States for these deaths.  All acknowledge the fluidity of the front lines in those early stages of the battle.  No one received any payment whatsoever to grant these interviews.  All confirm the casualties were "friendlies". And Sultan, our guide that fateful day and now a trusted liaison officer with U.S. Special Forces confirms that our team was present at the beginning of the allied assault to videotape the immediate aftermath of this sad incident.

What is clear is what I have consistently maintained; that I made an honest mistake, confusing one incident of friendly fire in Tora Bora with another in far-off Kandahar.  I again apologize for the error.  To judge how grave a mistake it was, ask yourselves, to what extent would it have been commented on if it concerned any other correspondent? Folkenflik is a phony, and those of you in the press who lauded him should be ashamed of yourselves. In your desperation to get Fox News, you slandered me, my brave team, and much more importantly, the innocent victims of both al Qaeda and the allied bombing in Tora Bora on and around December 5, 2001.

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