Karen DeYoung / Washington Post – 2009-06-09 21:36:58
WASHINGTON (June 9, 2009) — US military personnel on the ground in western Afghanistan and in the air failed to follow established procedures in a battle with the Taliban last month that killed dozens of Afghan civilians, Pentagon and other Obama administration officials said Monday.
During the battle, a Marine “quick-reaction” force came to the aid of an Afghan army unit attacking Taliban forces. Among the rules violated or poorly followed were poor initial planning for combat in a populated area and the dropping of a 2,000-pound bomb from a B-1 bomber on a building without proper visual and ground confirmation of the target, officials said.
Afghan government officials and human rights organizations have variously estimated that between 97 and 140 civilians were killed in the battle, in Farah province. Results of a major military investigation, presented Monday to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, are to be released in summary form later this week, one Pentagon official said.
Civilian deaths from US air strikes have been a major concern of Gates and other officials and are “one of the most dangerous things we face in Afghanistan, particularly with the Afghan people,” Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal told the Senate last week in his confirmation hearing as the new commander of US and NATO forces there.
“We’ve got to recognize that that is a way to lose their faith and lose their support,” McChrystal said of the Afghans, “and that would be strategically decisive against us.” McChrystal said that he would review tactics and the use of air power upon his arrival in Afghanistan and would probably change procedures.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said Monday that “there were some problems with the tactics, techniques and procedures” in the battle, including “the way in which close air support was supposed to have been executed,” including the fact that the B-1 bomber “had to break away from the target at least for a period.”
But Morrell said that there was “no indication” that the targeting gap itself “resulted in civilian casualties,” adding that it was just “one of the problems associated with these events.”
The number of civilian deaths, Morrell said, was “greatly outnumbered by the Taliban killed in this incident.”
That conclusion appeared to be at odds with statements from other US officials, including Karl Eikenberry, the US ambassador to Afghanistan, who have said the number of civilian deaths may never be known. The military initially estimated Taliban deaths at 60 to 65, along with 20 to 30 civilians.
Another Pentagon official said that the targeting lapse may not technically have caused civilian deaths – noting that Taliban forces had been seen running to and from the building and on its roof – but acknowledged that there was no ground confirmation of who was inside.
Several officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss the results of the investigation spoke about the matter only on the condition of anonymity.
Following a similar incident last fall in Herat province, Gates and the current US ground commander, Gen. David McKiernan, put new procedures in place for the use of air power.
But in the Farah attack, “there were some procedures that weren’t necessarily completely followed or followed to the letter,” a Pentagon official said. “It was not a deliberate ignorance of existing rules but certainly a lack of knowledge of certain procedures” in planning and executing such operations. Another official said no senior-level US commander was aware of the operation before it began.
© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.
Posted in accordance with Title 17, Section 107, US Code, for noncommercial, educational purposes.