By Adam Levine
The Afghan air force officer who killed eight U.S. airmen and a civilian contractor in an April 2011 shooting at the Kabul headquarters of the Afghanistan Air Force acted alone, a U.S. Air Force investigation has concluded. But the exhaustive report describes a shooter who was radicalized and vocally anti-American at times but at other times interacted with American mentors and trainers in his capacity as a pilot.
A copy of the investigation report was posted on the Air Force website on Tuesday.
"While the investigation did not determine a conclusive motive for the killing, the attack appeared to be premeditated." The investigation suggested he had "personal issues that were possibly compounded by alleged financial problems."
The April 2011 incident was one of the worst attacks on U.S. military in the 10-year war. The shooter, Ahmed Gul, walked into a conference room in the Afghanistan military wing of the Kabul International Airport and fired on the military trainers in the room before exiting and continuing to fire.
Gul is described by witnesses as standing quietly upon entering the room, as if listening to the ongoing conversation. Suddenly, his "facial expression turned to anger" according to one account. Another said "facial expression got very mad." All witness names were censored in the report.
Then, Gul removed a pistol from his uniform and opened fire. He shot each of the Americans in the room multiple times "including one shot to each of the deceaseds' heads," the report said. All but one died on the scene.
As Gul moved through the building, he "wrote in blood on opposite walls of the hallway, 'God is one' and 'God in your name' in Dari" before going to the lobby area, sitting down on the couch and shooting himself in the "torso and chest." Gul died of wounds suffered in the incident.
Gul is described as transforming from a party boy to radical Muslim between the '80s and last year. One person told investigators that Gul "drank alcohol, partied and was not a religous person" in the early '80s. Another said he kept his distance from Gul when they first joined the military in the '80s because of Gul's hashish use.
In the late '80s things changed for Gul, one person said. Gul became more religious and stayed that way through the '90s. In 1995, with the rise of the Taliban, Gul became sympathetic to them and was a very strict Muslim.
"He attended mosque for each prayer time, grew a beard," the investigators found. Gul "practiced an authoritarian approach when seeing other individuals who did not practice Islam to his liking."
In 2001, Gul's behavior began to change and he was described by one person as a "chameleon" because "he would change his attitudes to suit his surroundings."
He "was very authoritarian but would change depending on who he was interacting with," the person said.
Gul expressed interest in moving to a northern European country but when that was not possible he moved to Pakistan, stating "he was upset that foreigners had invaded his country."
While in Pakistan he frequented a mosque in Hayatabad and "developed a very close relationship with an unidentified prominent figure" he met at the mosque. "Attendance at the Mosque radicalized him," the investigators were told.
There were rumors Gul wanted to become a suicide bomber but one person said that was discounted because of his chameleon-like attitude.
One person told investigators Gul "showed signs of depression but was not schizophrenic."
In 2008, Gul moved back to Afghanistan. He told some "he wanted to kill Americans" but investigators were told that was not believed. But Gul's behavior shifted again. He "appeared to relax his religious attitudes but still argued his religious opinions." Gul cut his beard, stopped wearing a religious headdress and "acted as though he embraced the ideas" of the administration of Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.
But Gul had financial problems. He lived in his vehicle after selling his home to pay off debts.
His behavior in the military was outside the norm. Gul was described as perennially late by multiple people. Gul's supervising officer said he "did not follow the normal military standards; he was irresponsible, stubborn and insistent. He would get mad if things were not going his way."
"He had become more religious and had drastic changes in his Islamic views," the supervising officer told investigators, adding that Gul's views "were boiling over and extreme to an extent."
Gul attended a mosque that was "extremely anti-American and pro-Pakistan" and he came and went as he pleased. His supervisor suspected he was connected to a higher-up in Ministry of Defense.
Even so, his supervising officer noted Gul would "look at pornographic materials on the Internet."
Another Afghan military official, who had known Gul since 1983, said Gul "was a very vibrant and happy person in his younger years." But upon returning to his military post in Kabul, "approximately five to six months earlier, subject became very quiet and generally kept to himself."
Even so, for someone who at times had talked of killing Americans, Gul "displayed no disrespect, hostility nor arrogance toward his Coalition Forces mentors," the official said.
Another said Gul was "unusual and reserved," noting he "would say hello to everyone to include the U.S. mentors." While his fellow military members would joke around, conduct small talk and "high five" the mentors, Gul "was not disrespectful, just quiet toward the mentors," investigators were told.
Gul is described as having "prayed all night and cleaned his gun" before going to the military headquarters and starting his rampage.