BBC News & James Shaw / BBC News & Josh White / Washington Post – 2007-05-09 08:50:40
Officer Says Civilian Deaths ‘Deeply Shame’ US
(May 8, 2007) — An American commander in Afghanistan has said that he is “deeply ashamed” by the killings of 19 Afghan civilians by US Marines in early March. He said that the military had paid condolence payments to the families in the eastern province of Nangarhar.
Western forces have been accused of carelessness over civilian lives when attacking the Taleban and their allies.
It has become a major issue, with NATO recently saying that its biggest error last year was killing civilians. In January, it promised to do better.
“I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people,” US army spokesman Col John Nicholson told reporters in Washington by video conference from Afghanistan.
US “Erased Afghan Footage”
“The deaths and wounding of innocent Afghans at the hands of Americans is a stain on our honour and on the memory of the many Americans who have died defending Afghanistan and the Afghan people.
“We made official apologies on the part of the US government and payments of about $2,000 for each death,” he said, after US officials visited some of the families left bereaved by the incident.
US forces were accused of killing the civilians during shooting near the city of Jalalabad.
Journalists said at the time that US troops confiscated their photos and video footage of the aftermath of the violence.
The Americans said the fighting started when a convoy of Marines was attacked by a suicide bomber and came under co-ordinated small-arms fire.
They said that their soldiers returned fire, and acknowledged that at least eight Afghan civilians had been killed, with a further 35 injured.
Reports said that as they left the scene along a busy highway, the Americans fired indiscriminately on civilians and their vehicles.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the incident at the time.
Thousands of local people took to the streets shortly after the attack to protest against what happened.
The Associated Press news agency said it would complain to the US military after journalists said US soldiers allegedly deleted footage of the aftermath of the Nangarhar violence.
Freelance journalists working for the Associated Press said troops erased photos and video showing a vehicle in which three people were shot dead during the incident.
A US military commander determined that the Marines used excessive force and referred the case for possible criminal investigation.
Correspondents say that military killings of civilians have eroded Afghan support for international forces and have put the Western-backed government in Kabul under pressure.
On Thursday, Nato forces vowed to improve co-ordination with the Afghan authorities to avoid civilian deaths.
Their pledge follows the reported deaths of about 50 civilians last week in fighting in western Afghanistan between US-led troops and militants.
In recent days there have been protests by Afghans in different parts of the country – including Jalalabad – over civilian killings.
The bloodshed has returned to levels not seen since the fall of the Taleban in 2001, and a quarter of more than 4,000 people killed last year were believed to have been civilians.
Correspondents say fewer civilians are killed by international forces than in suicide and other attacks by the Taleban.
US Attack ‘Kills Iraqi Children’
James Shaw / BBC News
BAGHDAD (May 8, 2007) — An attack by a US helicopter against suspected insurgents in Iraq has killed a number of children at a primary school, Iraqi security sources say.
The attack took place in Diyala province northeast of Baghdad, the sources say.
A spokesman for the US military said there had been helicopter activity in the area but he was not able to confirm any other details. The school is in the village of al-Nedawat close to the Iranian border.
One police officer said the helicopter was shot at from the ground during the morning. The school was said to have been hit when the aircraft returned fire.
The officer said police had spoken to eyewitnesses and that six children had been killed and six injured but the figures have not been independently confirmed.
A spokesman for the US forces in Iraq, Lt-Col Chris Garver, said the US tried to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties, which was why it was taking the reports seriously and conducting an investigation.
There has been an escalation of violence in Diyala in recent weeks. On Sunday, a convoy of US armored vehicles was hit by a bomb which killed six soldiers and a Russian journalist who was traveling with them.
69 Afghans’ Families Get a US Apology
Marines Killed 19 Civilians in March
Josh White / Washington Post
(May 9, 2007) — A US Army brigade commander in Afghanistan yesterday told the families of 69 civilians who were killed or wounded by members of an elite Marine Special Forces unit in March that he is “deeply, deeply ashamed” about the incident, describing the series of shootings along a civilian thoroughfare as a “terrible, terrible mistake.”
Col. John Nicholson said he apologized to a group of Afghan people in the eastern Nangahar province on behalf of the U.S. government and delivered solatia payments of approximately $2,000 to the families of 19 innocent civilians who died as a result of the March 4 attacks. Speaking to reporters at the Pentagon via a video feed from Afghanistan yesterday, Nicholson said the payments were “essentially a symbol of our sympathy to them” and “a way of expressing our genuine condolences over the incident occurring.”
U.S. commanders have said that the incident began when a suicide bomber drove a small van filled with explosives into a Marine Corps Forces Special Operations convoy that was on its way to a base in Jalalabad. The Marines then fired on people nearby and along several miles of their ensuing route through a crowded roadway, according to early investigative findings and an Afghan government human rights group.
Early estimates showed that about a dozen civilians were killed; Nicholson said yesterday that the death toll has been confirmed to be 19, with 50 wounded.
The incident — which resulted in the largest number of civilian deaths from a single U.S. action in the country since the war began — raised significant ire within Afghan communities in the region. U.S. commanders quickly removed the Marine company from Afghanistan after the incident because of the tensions it could have caused among the local population. Maj. Gen. Frank H. Kearney III, who heads the Special Operations Central Command, ordered an investigation.
“The people are the center of gravity here, so, first and foremost in all that we do, we seek to do no harm to the people,” Nicholson said. “So events such as that do set us back with the population, and they have to be addressed very directly and forthrightly with the Afghan people.”
Nicholson said that he met with the families to explain that the United States goes to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties, and that he read a statement expressing regret and asking for forgiveness. Solatia payments of about $2,000 are fairly standard in Iraq and Afghanistan when commanders believe U.S. troops are responsible for civilian deaths or damage to civilian buildings; they are not legal admissions of guilt or a crime, but instead are intended as signs of goodwill in war zones where the enemy is often hard to distinguish from the innocent.
“We are filled with grief and sadness at the death of any Afghan, but the death and wounding of innocent Afghans at the hand of Americans is a stain on our honor and on the memory of the many Americans who have died defending Afghanistan and the Afghan people,” Nicholson read from the statement. “This was a terrible, terrible mistake.”
Marine Corps Forces Special Operations Command officials said most members of the Marine company are in Kuwait. Eight members — including the company commander and the company’s senior noncommissioned officer — have returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C.
“We regret the March 4 ambush of the Marine Special Operations Company in Afghanistan and offer our deepest sympathy to all of those involved,” Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore, a spokesman for the command, said in a statement yesterday. “The events related to that ambush are currently under investigation. In the interest of preserving the presumption of innocence that all U.S. service members deserve when facing allegations of misconduct, we will not characterize the incident until we have all the facts.”
Nicholson said investigators with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service are in Afghanistan interviewing witnesses and victims. Kearney told The Washington Post last month that no evidence has been found showing that the Marine unit took enemy fire after the suicide bomb was detonated.
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