4 seconds in Afghanistan

A dark car screeches to a stop:

Second 1: A figure dressed in dark, bulky clothing emerges.

Second 2: The figure begins walking toward the trunk.

Second 3: Taylor, with five wounded comrades behind him, sees a thin trigger wire seeming to snake directly toward the black car. Could there be a second bomb in the trunk?

Second 4: Taylor squeezes the trigger on his M-4 carbine. The figure crumples to the dirt.

(Read the article here.)

This scenario played out in front of  Sergeant First Class Walter Taylor, along a stretch of road called the “Highway of Death” between Kabul and Kandahar Afghanistan. SFC Taylor’s sole purpose is to take care of his Soldiers and get them home alive. His convoy had just struck an IED when the dark car came screeching up.  Tensions were high right after the bomb blast, and all SFC Taylor was thinking about was ensuring nothing else happened to his Soldiers. When he saw the figure emerge from the vehicle and head towards the trunk, he believed he saw an IED trigger wire coming out of the trunk of the car, right where the figure was heading. He had just 4 seconds to react to what he saw as a direct threat to his Soldiers and he acted. It is never an easy choice to take another life, yet when put in that position Sergeant First Class Walter Taylor chose to protect his Soldiers.

During the investigation of the incident the victim was identified as Dr. Aqilah Hikmat, a 49-year-old mother of four who headed the obstetrics department at the nearby Ghazni provincial hospital, also killed were 18-year-old son and 16-year-old niece, her husband was wounded. It is sad when innocent people are killed, but it happens in war. SFC Taylor had just 4 seconds to determine if a threat was present, and from his experience he believed a lethal threat was imminent. If he failed to act and it was not Dr. Hikmat but an insurgent we would be mourning SFC Taylor and only God knows how many of his Soldiers.

Ten days after the shooting SFC Taylor’s vehicle was hit by an RPG, the blast destroyed most of his face and blinded him in one eye. He received his Purple Heart in August of 2011, followed shortly there after by a criminal charges sheet charging him with negligent homicide, the Army believes the death of Dr. Hikmat was not just a casualty of war but a criminal act.

Our government orders Soldiers into combat, orders them to live in harsh often life threatening situations, and demands that they be willing to lay their lives on the line often for people who would rather kill them than help them. Our government charges our Military leaders with leading and protecting their Soldiers in combat. The government says take these 18 and 19-year-old kids into a life or death situation and bring them home alive. Then when a leader like Sergeant First Class Walter Taylor does that the powers that be treat him like a criminal. He made a choice that few people, including Police Officers, ever have to make, and fewer people would have the courage to make. He was protecting his Soldiers, and for that he is being charged with a crime.

“[Our] main mission is to protect the Afghan people, and ISAF realizes that incidents of this kind damage the confidence of both the Afghan people and the government in ISAF,” Lt. Col. Jimmie E. Cummings Jr., a spokesman for the force in Afghanistan, said in a statement to The Times. “We try to prevent accidental or unintentional casualties through a variety of measures which call upon our forces to exercise restraint during operations.” If this type of incident damages the confidence of the people of Afghanistan, what do they think happens to the confidence Soldiers are supposed to have in their leaders when they charge Soldiers with a crime for protecting themselves?

Every Soldier knows that they may not come home from war, and we accept that. But when our government would rather us die than protect ourselves we can not accept that. When our government punishes us for doing our jobs, we can not accept that. If protecting the Afghan people is more important than protecting our Soldiers, it’s time to pack up and go home. Punishing leaders for doing their job effectively destroys their ability to lead. If Soldiers are so scared of going to jail because of the accidental hurting or killing of a civilian that they can no longer do their job, why keep them there?

The Rules Of Engagement that our forces operates under in Afghanistan are the most restrictive and enemy friendly that has ever been forced on an Army at war.  It effectively ties our Soldiers hands and leaves them vulnerable to an enemy that is not afraid to kill hundreds of civilians just to kill one of our Soldiers. I am not advocating that we should be able to shoot at who ever we want, but I am saying we should have the ability to defend ourselves and our fellow Soldiers. Believe it or not most Soldiers already show great restraint when it comes to lethal force situations. 99% of Soldiers will not go out and randomly kill innocent people, yes there have been case of murder, but those instances are few and far between.

It is the greatest slap in the face to charge a Soldier, especially a great Soldier like SFC Taylor, with a crime for protecting his Soldiers. SFC Taylor did what he had to do to ensure his Soldiers safety, it is a crime on the part of Army leadership to treat him like a criminal.

To find out more about Sergeant First Class Walter Taylor and learn how to donate to his defense fund click here. We can not let this hero be convicted for doing his job and protecting his Soldiers.

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