ARLINGTON, Va. — An Army Human Terrain Team member has been charged with murder in connection with the killing of an Afghan man who set another team member on fire.

Don Michael Ayala, a contractor working for the Virginia-based firm Strategic Analysis Inc., allegedly shot Abdul Salam while the man was restrained in U.S. custody, according to an affidavit filed in federal court.

On Nov. 4, Ayala was on a patrol about 50 miles west of Kandahar along with two other team members and a platoon of soldiers. During the patrol, Salam lit a container of flammable liquid and threw it at one of the team members, Paula Loyd, the affidavit said.

Salam tried to get away, but Ayala forced him to the ground, where he was cuffed.

"After about 10 minutes, a soldier approached the location where Ayala had Salam detained and informed the personnel in the area that Loyd was burned badly," the affidavit said. "Ayala pushed his pistol against Salam’s head and shot Salam, killing him instantly."

Loyd, who suffered second- and third-degree burns over 56 percent of her body, is recovering at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, said Maj. Mike Kenfield, a spokesman for U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.

Human Terrain Teams are made up of civilian experts, such as social scientists, who advise brigade and battalion commanders on the political and cultural environment they face.

In addition to the attack on Loyd, two team members have been killed in the last year. Michael Bhatia, a social scientist, died in a roadside bomb attack in Afghanistan in May.

The second, Nicole Suveges, was killed in Iraq in June when a council meeting in Sadr City was bombed. Her team leader, Army Lt. Col. Pete Pierce, said team members received basic force protection training at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., before heading downrange.

"None of them are foolhardy," he said.

Pierce’s team members do not carry weapons, and after the Paula Loyd incident all are required to wear flame-retardant Army Combat Uniforms when they go outside the wire, he said.

"It is a dangerous environment, but we take the environment very seriously, and I have confidence in my brigade and my [personal security detachments] in protecting us as much as can be done," he said.

He said the teams are vital to the non-lethal component of counterinsurgency efforts because they let commanders know who major players are in their battlespace. Without that knowledge, "your job is infinitely, infinitely harder."

Ayala could face life in prison if convicted, the affidavit said.

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