WASHINGTON, March 3, 2011 — A top U.S. general in Afghanistan offered condolences via a video recording released today for a March 1 helicopter strike that left nine boys dead in Afghanistan’s Kunar province.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force released the pre-recorded video this morning, which featured Army Lt. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, commander of ISAF’s Joint Command, apologizing for the deaths of the Afghan boys and explaining his troops’ actions in the incident.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies for killing nine children…,” the general said. “I want to tell you what happened, not to make an excuse, but rather, because we understand that knowing the facts of a seemingly inconceivable tragedy sometimes helps.”
Coalition helicopter pilots mistakenly identified the nine young boys as insurgents based on intelligence reports, Rodriguez said. The boys were chopping wood near a location that reportedly was used by insurgents just hours earlier in a rocket attack on a nearby coalition outpost. One American soldier was wounded in the rocket attack.
“The coalition dispatched two helicopters to the location they were told the attack came from,” Rodriguez explained. “The helicopters identified what they thought were insurgents, killing nine, [but] shortly thereafter, we received word that these young men were not insurgents.”
An assessment team arrived on the scene immediately following the airstrike and confirmed the accidental killings, he said.
“They were simply boys who had been cutting wood,” Rodriguez said. “We had made a terrible mistake.”
The incident was a shock to the command and troops involved, he said, because of the measures the NATO command has taken over the past two years to prevent civilian casualties.
“These incidents are rare, particularly when compared to all the operations we conduct with our [Afghan] army and police partners,” the general said. “We take each civilian death or injury very seriously.
“Being fathers and brothers and friends ourselves,” he continued, “we understand that when death comes to your family or community, it doesn’t matter if that’s the very first time it ever happened. To you, it’s the only incident that matters.”
The apology went on to describe the effort and lengths coalition leadership and troops serving in Afghanistan go to prevent civilian casualties. Rodriguez noted that ISAF adheres to several directives outlining ground and air forces’ rules of engagement on the battlefield.
“We do spend considerable time training our soldiers on how to engage the right targets,” the general explained. “We have directives, and we make sure that all soldiers clearly understand them. These directives are constantly under review and we are continually enforcing their messages.
“In the past year, because of this emphasis,” he added, “we have done much better in preventing civilian casualties, but we acknowledge we have to do better.”
Rodriguez said he and his troops accept full responsibility for their actions. However, he added, the killing of innocent Afghan civilians is ultimately the result of the insurgency and terrorist activity.
“I ask that the Afghan people help stop the senseless killings brought upon all of us by an enemy who wants to rule the people through fear and violence,” the general said. “Help us honor the lives lost by actively pursuing a future of hope, one that rejects tragedy like the one yesterday.”
U.S. Department of Defense
Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs)