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After Afghan Probe, Military Vows Changes

POSTED: 02:55 PM ET, 10/ 9/2008 by Derek Kravitz

After acknowledging that an August airstrike by U.S. forces killed 33 Afghan civilians, instead of the five originally reported by the military, U.S. Central Command officials say they will try to better document casualties, communicate more with humanitarian organizations and make "condolence payments" to victim's families when appropriate.

But the new report on the incident also found that "the use of force was in self-defense, necessary and proportional based on the information the On-Scene-Commander had at the time."

The dispute over the number of civilian casualties in the attack has become an international issue, with Afghan leaders angrily questioning the way U.S. forces pick their targets. The Afghan government, U.S. military, Western journalists, human-rights organizations and the United Nations have all weighed in with estimates of the toll.

Last month, during a visit to Afghanistan, Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates acknowledged the human and public relations damage caused by such incidents. He promised additional measures to minimize them and to conduct more transparent investigations. He also said that in the future, the United States will compensate the families of alleged victims even before completing its investigations.

The initial U.S. military review of the Aug. 21 airstrike in western Afghanistan maintained that only five civilians were killed.

After hearing reports of more casualties, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan conducted its own investigation into the killings and found that tribal leaders and local residents were able to confirm some 90 casualties, including names and ages of the victims.

A copy U.S. Central Command's summary of its report on the Aug. 21 airstrike in western Afghanistan that killed 33 civilians and at least 22 militants


Download This Document (PDF) | More Investigations Documents

Then two videos apparently recorded with a cell phone and obtained by several news agencies (raw video) surfaced, showing dozens of bodies of women and children laid out in a village mosque.

Afghan officials later said that at least 70 people, including women and children, were killed in the attack, according to a statement prepared by the office of Afghanistan President Hamed Karzai.

The U.S. Central Command later agreed to send its own team to reinvestigate what happened, releasing a summary of its full report yesterday (statement).

In it, military officials say they found evidence of 55 deaths during the airstrike, including 33 civilians. Investigators said they conducted more than two dozen interviews with Afghan tribal leaders and officials and reviewed 11 videos in connection with the attack.

The validity of the other probes by the UN and human rights organizations "are in question," the summary says, because they lack recent census records, birth or death certificates and rely on inconsistent burial evidence. Furthermore, inconsistent statements by villagers and an unreliable "blood-soaked rug" did not persuade U.S. investigators that there were more civilian deaths.

Casualty lists were also provided by "mainly one source" and the source was potentially "tainted" because of political, financial and "survival" agendas, the report said.

"We are deeply saddened at the loss of innocent life in Azizabad," Army Lt. Gen. Martin Dempsey, the acting head of Central Command, said yesterday in a statement. "We go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan in all our operations, but as we have seen all too often, this ruthless enemy routinely surround themselves with innocents."

No U.S. "condolence payments" have been offered but the Afghan government has given the family of each victim $2,000, each wounded victim $1,000 and a government-sponsored trip to the Haj, for a total sum of 9.3 million Afghanis, or $185,597.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said it will release its own report on the attack next week.

By Derek Kravitz |  October 9, 2008; 2:55 PM ET Hot Documents
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POPPY FIELDS OF MASS DESTRUCTION ---- TIME TO AWAKEN

The beautiful and delicate poppy that now paints the landscapes of Afghanistan with vibrant colors, has long been the symbol for sacrifice. The aesthetic is as soothing to the sense of sight, as it is exasperating to the conscience.

http://pacificgatepost.blogspot.com/2008/04/poppy-fields-of-mass-destruction.html

Drastic action is required.

-------


Posted by: PacificGatePost | October 9, 2008 8:54 PM

I'm not sure that the U.S. military's new tactic of trying to negotiate down the number of civilian victims is much of an improvement of the old policy of just denying they happen.

Posted by: marc | October 10, 2008 4:00 AM

URGENT REVIEW?!? Well, I guess that finally the guilt of our guys mistakenly strafing so many Afghan innocents is finally paying big dividends at the Pentagon. It’s about time. And one huge indicator that our policy, or whatever, has pissed off one demographic group too many: not only have the poor uneducated Afghans been angry at our pathetic aiming, but finally as we get nearer electing our next president, Americans seriously want to know what the hell is going on.

Our government and the self-righteousness of the American people have NEVER allowed military leaders or soldiers of other nations to get away with the civilian deaths they commit during war. We hold them accountable as war criminals. The best we’ve been able to do this time around is disgrace and smear our character with Abu Ghraib. The world knows what self-righteous indignation is because of us. We are possessive creatures of SRI and do not like it when others try it on.

Our military, for all the good it does do, continually shoots itself in the foot every damned time it devalues the innocents they go to defend by strafing them and then screaming collateral damage when those who truly care honestly catch our guys with their hands in a cookie jar cover-up. It begins when they allow the young American soldiers to use derogatory terms towards the Afghan people, who are loving and want to just live peacefully. All they have known for decades is war. Our kids and most of us have never lived with it day in and day out on our streets. It begins when our soldiers are allowed to speak to each other about those they are going to defend with crass language that is racist and disrespectful.

But what do most of you know about that? You see every Afghan through the lens of the Taleban and Osama bin Laden. And you assume much about both of these entities because you lack so much knowledge about the history and how we got into this mess in the first place. And yes, it did begin way before Sept 11th, a sad consequence of that lack of knowledge. And yes, we dropped the ball of humanity several decades ago, before many of you commenting here or those fighting in Afghanistan were even born. And you know absolutely squat because by the time you got to high school your world history and government courses were so watered down you could never taste the soup.

Had we stayed in Afghanistan rather than run to Iraq to help Bush prop up his now hideously failed legacy and done the job correctly we might still be in a mess but it might be more manageable. Had the Bush administration and Pervez Musharraf not been in bed together whilst Iraq was placed on the front burner, more priorities could have been addressed and fewer resources in both human lives and finances would have been wasted. But the American voters were negligent yet again (look at how many negated their right to vote in 2004). And since American high schools failed miserably in world history, our fine countrymen and women know as much about Pakistan as they know about Afghanistan (unless some bigots count Apu from the Simpsons.) Now that the world is, thanks to our American stock market system, teetering financially and in a recession of global proportions, we are all in deep do-do.

We need to get off our American imperial high horse and listen to advice from the Brits who failed in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but have learned from those mistakes and learned from decades of tribulation with The Troubles (Google that if you don’t know what I’m talking about) and other modern wars. The Brits just do not have the monetary resources or equipment like our military. You forget they are a much smaller country and it makes sense that their manpower and resources would be stretched thinner than ours. And the financial landscape in the UK changed over a year ago with the failure of Northern Rock and America's Wall Street whilst Americans were asleep and allowing the Fed to fabricate yet more lies because the truth hurts. We expats in the UK have been waiting for the dam to break and the shoe to drop in the US since last September. Well golly gee, feel the pain in your wallets today.

Whether you like to hear it or not, the British have much more successful experience with this type of military conflict. (Look those conflicts up in the history books if you even know where to look. Google will be a weak start.) Through past failures their foreign diplomacy, unlike ours, has improved. Our military and State Department just do not like to be reminded. In typical American fashion the entire Iraq and Afghan initiatives have slowed down because our guys have to turn everything into a competition. This is not the NFL, for God’s sake!

We Americans were not the only ones to lose innocents in Sept 11th. But that day’s occurrence is on our heads because we and our government were asleep at the wheel for decades. If American victims and survivors of Sept 11th demand and are awarded such disgustingly greedy monetary amounts through litigation for their pain and suffering, then who and what does that make us when we deny compensation to Afghan victims and survivors for our careless mistakes in handling ordinance? Because of the social status most of you commenting on here deem these poor people you do not know, they are not going to receive barely a pittance compared to the American victims and survivors of Sept 11th, whom most of you commenting on here never knew.

We cannot leave a mess in Afghanistan because it will not leave us.

Posted by: Kibbelz7 | October 10, 2008 6:13 AM

Apologies, my previous comment was in part aimed at comments for another article on this same subject. Those of you commenting here are well-informed.

Posted by: Kibbelz7 | October 10, 2008 6:20 AM

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