According to Pacha Khan's family, the driver was on his way to get food for the checkpoint's soldiers. The dead driver was the warlord's eldest son, Jalani Khan. His body was left on the roadside.

Several days later, the team reported that every checkpoint along the road from Khowst to Gardez seemed to be clear. Pacha Khan's influence was waning, and much of the credit went to Waller's team.

"The guys in Gardez … are having a significant effect on the area," an official with the Special Operations task force wrote to colleagues.

But with tensions inflamed by the killing of Pacha Khan's son, and with the 20th Group about to head home, Champion reined in the team. Waller's proposals for two patrols targeting the warlord were rejected.

The commander's "gut reaction," explained a March 28 note to Duff from Champion's staff, "is that Chief Waller is just out looking for another fight with PKZ, whom we've been told to back off of …. The [commander] is concerned that guys are rattling the tree, but what they are getting is criminal elements [versus terrorists], and we are not cops."

As they packed their gear in early April, the 20th Group's field commanders were frustrated to be leaving the warlord at large.

"Pacha Khan Zadran is probably now laughing at the Americans," the commander of the Special Forces team in Khowst wrote to superiors.

Maj. Rick Rhyne, the incoming 3rd Group operations chief, shrugged off the complaint.

"There is a reason, most likely political, that we cannot touch him," he wrote. "He can laugh all he wants to."

EPILOGUE: Inquiries Are Underway, so Far Without Charges

In the years since ODA 2021 returned to its red-clay roots, the interrogation methods practiced by some Special Forces units in Afghanistan migrated to Iraq.

Early warnings seem to have been disregarded. In Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross complained of mistreatment as early as December 2002. It delivered a private report to top U.S. military commanders alleging widespread abuse at the firebases at the very time Parre and his men were being held in Gardez.

The Red Cross had interviewed more than 40 former firebase detainees who described beatings, kickings, verbal threats, sleep and food deprivation, immersion in icy water and prolonged exposure to extreme cold, according to a copy of the previously undisclosed report, which was obtained from U.S. government sources.

Initially, U.S. officials reacted skeptically, dismissing the Red Cross claims.

"Don't get all spun up on this," advised Maj. Rhyne, the Special Operations officer, in a note to battalion commanders. "Just let the teams know there were allegations but no proof."

Capt. Sean McMahon, a judge advocate general for the Special Operations task force, wrote to others on the headquarters staff that the allegations were vague. But he said Lt. Gen. Dan McNeill, then commander of U.S.-led forces in Afghanistan, wanted all interrogators reminded of proper methods.

The interrogators needed to understand, McMahon wrote, that "if they are implementing certain procedures, they must cease."

Some members of ODA 2021 have come under criminal investigation stemming from the deaths of Jamal Naseer and Wakil Mohammed. No one has been charged, and the names of those targeted by the inquiry have not been released.

The Army's Criminal Investigation Command has no timetable for completing the inquiries into either death, spokesman Christopher P. Grey said.

The investigations have proved challenging, he said, because of difficulties locating witnesses and barriers in language and culture. The families refused to allow the exhumation of either victim, citing religious beliefs.