All or most of them were women and children. The lethal strikes took place in Helmand province. Local Afghan authorities are apparently saying that 12 of the deaths are children, two are women, and six others were injured. Hamid Karzai, in condemning the killings, gave a different breakdown: 10 children, two women, and two men.
The White House has issued the usual canned response:
A White House spokesman said Sunday that Washington was taking “very seriously” Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s concerns over the latest incident of civilian deaths caused by US-led military operations.”We work very hard, our military in Afghanistan, to do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties,” White House spokesman Jay Carney told reporters aboard the president’s aircraft, Air Force One, as it made its way to Joplin, Missouri.
“We coordinate obviously, work with the Afghan government, Afghan military with that goal,” Carney said.
He added: “President Karzai has expressed on a number of occasions his concerns about civilian casualties. Those are concerns that we share and take very seriously.”
The first sentence in that last paragraph would seem to give the lie to the second, would it not? Hamid Karzai reacted to these latest civilian killings by giving the Obama administration a “last warning“:
“American and NATO troops have been repeatedly warned that their wilful and inappropriate operations cause daily the killings of innocent and desperate people and that such raids trample underfoot the human and moral values. But it seems that they do not heed,” the statement quoted Karzai as saying.
In his statement, Karzai termed the deaths of women and children a major mistake and said he had issued his last warning to NATO and American troops.
These airstrikes took place at 11 pm Saturday night (local time). For obvious reasons, nighttime raids are more likely to result in civilian deaths, so a good place for the Obama administration to start if they truly want to prevent these kinds of horrors would be to order them stopped. According to the Washington Post, Hamid Karzai has issued his own such order, although how he is going to make it stick is another matter:
Karzai instructed his defense minister to stop all night raids by NATO troops in Afghanistan and have only Afghan troops conduct such operations. The president’s decision, announced in a statement from his office, did not elaborate on how he intended to accomplish that goal.The move follows years of criticism from Karzai about intrusive NATO military operations into Afghan homes, particularly those that harm civilians. But it appeared to be the most concrete step he has sought to reduce their frequency.
A spokesman for the U.S. military in Kabul, Maj. Sunset Belinsky, said NATO “fully supports President Karzai’s intent to have Afghan forces increasingly in the lead for operations.” But the coalition did not signal any intention of making radical changes soon.
Reuters has more on these night raids, their riskiness, and the U.S. military’s unwillingness to end them:
NATO-led forces defended the night-time operations as “indispensable,” but also said they supported Karzai’s aim of making them Afghan-led and were working to achieve this.
Karzai, who has previously riled U.S. and NATO leaders with criticism of night raids, said in a statement from his office that Afghan troops should be carrying out the sensitive night raids themselves.
“President Hamid Karzai ordered the Defense Ministry to prevent foreign troops from uncoordinated and arbitrary operations and bring night raids under its control,” the statement said.
“The president stresses that special operations and night raids must be independently conducted by Afghan troops.”
Afghans say the raids, carried out in darkness on houses suspected of harboring insurgents or being used as a store for weapons, often lead to civilian casualties.
Foreign troops have defended them as key to gaining ground against insurgents, cutting down the leaders of a movement with more territory and influence than at any time since 2001.
I take this to mean that Afghan troops care more about Afghan civilians’ lives — or at least are perceived to care more about Afghan civilians’ lives — than do American troops. This is certainly not surprising, but it does say a lot about the “hearts and minds” thing, does it not? Which in turn makes one wonder how much ground the Obama administration figures those “foreign troops” can gain, and keep, when the people living on the ground they’re trying to gain don’t trust them to value their lives.