By Gerry J. Gilmore
Oct. 30, 2006 – The Taliban's habit of using human shields during attacks on coalition forces may have caused the deaths of a number of Afghan civilians during a recent incident in Kandahar province, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe said in the Afghan capital Oct. 28. "Sadly, in asymmetric warfare, when you're battling an insurgency, typically, the insurgents do not play by the same rules that we would like to play by," Marine Corps Gen. James L. Jones, who was visiting the country, told reporters at a Kabul news conference.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force and the Afghan Ministry of Defense are conducting a joint investigation into the Oct. 24 incident in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province, according to an ISAF news release. A large number of insurgents were engaged by coalition close-air support that day near the Sperwan Ghar security base.
Besides insurgents, a number of Afghan civilians were also killed in the engagement, the release stated, noting it wasn't clear at this point how many civilians were killed as the result of insurgent fire. Insurgents in Afghanistan routinely "attack using civilians as shields," Jones said. "They do everything they can to spread lies about the purpose of the (coalition) soldiers' efforts."
Early investigation of the Sperwan Ghar incident indicates that "sadly, there appears to have been some loss of life and innocent people who were wounded in a legitimate mission," Jones said. The insurgents were apparently using the cover of civilian population in an attempt to discourage coalition counter fire, Jones said, noting that's an often-employed Taliban tactic.
Such a scenario makes it "very difficult for us to get at them," Jones said. Coalition military commanders in Afghanistan often weigh whether or not to go after enemy targets of opportunity in recent engagements. The incidence of innocent Afghan civilians being killed or wounded in any engagement "is to be regretted and investigated," Jones said, noting he'd personally apologized for the incident to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
"We take this very seriously," Jones emphasized. "We will look into it. And, we will always do whatever we can to minimize any innocent people from being victimized in any way by military activities."