General Apologizes for Civilian Deaths in Afghanistan

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)

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