By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
Sept. 16, 2008 - NATO and American officials in Afghanistan believe that one civilian casualty is too many, the NATO International Security Assistance Force commander said here today. The goal of fighting a counterinsurgency is to make the people feel secure and allow them to connect with their government, Army Gen. David D. McKiernan said during an interview with reporters traveling with Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates. ISAF and American forces in Afghanistan cannot become an enemy of the people, the general said.
An air strike in Shindand in Herat province allegedly killed a number of civilians. U.S. Central Command is sending a team to review the initial investigation.
McKiernan said he feels strongly about it. "We have reviewed our procedures for the application of lethal force," he said. "I've just revised a tactical directive that tries to be very measured in how we apply lethal force." The directive, released Sept. 2, is aimed at minimizing civilian casualties.
Any civilian casualty caused by NATO or American forces is inadvertent, McKiernan said. "It's a tragic mistake," he said. "But the enemy we fight on purpose mixes in with the population."
It is extremely difficult to avoid civilian casualties in any counterinsurgency campaign, he said. But the Taliban and other insurgent groups purposely puts civilians at risk.
"They purposely target civilians, and we see that with suicide bombers, with car bombs [and] with asymmetric attacks on population targets," he said. "I draw a huge distinction between civilian casualties that are a result of [Operation Enduring Freedom] or ISAF actions and those caused by the insurgency."
Part of the new directive stresses combined operations with the Afghan army and police. It calls for ISAF and American forces to use Afghans whenever possible to conduct house searches. It also calls on leaders to use discrimination when using firepower, whether it is air-to-ground or ground-to-ground.
"We have escalation-of-force measures where we don't start at the high kinetic end," he said. "One thing we put new emphasis on is having an ability to get information out quicker when there is an allegation of civilian casualties."
The directive is related to how forces deal with the population and how they apply lethal force. Probably 90 percent of the directive is a re-emphasis on procedures already in place, McKiernan said.
"We emphasize the use of proportionality when we have to use lethal force in an area," he said. "We have measured procedures we use when we drop any ordnance. We have certain constraints on collateral damage that are reviewed before any ordnance is dropped, and we have positive identification of the target, and we have procedures for control on the ground of the targeting. We have a very measured approach to it."
But, unfortunately, "you are not going to be accurate all the time," McKiernan said. "There are going to be cases in an insurgency where you are fighting an enemy who does not wear a uniform, who mixes in with the population. There are going to be times when there will be unintended consequences."
Afghanistan is a huge country that is geographically complex, "and we don't have sufficient forces here so there is a greater reliance on air," he said. "Providing support for troops in contact or the immediate use of close-air support is always more of a problem than a planned mission."