By Army Sgt. 1st Class Tyrone C. Marshall Jr.
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON – The commander of International Security Assistance Forces today visited Afghan officials and the families of civilians reportedly killed during a June 6 airstrike and issued an apology for the attack, Defense Department officials said.
Marine Corps Gen. John R. Allen met with the provincial governor, parliament leaders, provincial council leadership and village elders to deliver his personal condolences, an ISAF press release says.
“I am here not only as the commander of the coalition forces, but also as a father, to apologize for the tragedy that occurred two days ago,” Allen said, according to the release. “Additionally, I am committed to ensuring we do the right thing for the families of those we inadvertently harmed, as well as for the community in which they lived.”
Allen “did render his apologies for the civilian casualties that we caused,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Capt. John Kirby said in response to a reporter’s question durikng a regular meeting with Pentagon press. “We know that we did cause a number of civilian casualties in this air strike, and he also made it clear that we would make good in terms of compensation to the families.”
News reports say 18 Afghan civilians were killed in the airstrike, but Kirby noted an assessment team continues to investigate. “It would be premature and irresponsible” to discuss specific numbers, he said.
Kirby explained the incident leading to the airstrike which came after ISAF troops were fired upon while tracking Taliban fighters in eastern Logar province.
“As the joint Afghan-U.S. force approached the building, a number of our forces were taken under fire,” he said. “A hand grenade was thrown and some of our people … were wounded.”
“Those forces called out to the people who were shooting at them to come out,” he added. “They refused.”
The coalition force used procedures in the tactical directive that seek to limit deadly force until there were no further alternatives, Kirby said.
“Unfortunately, the situation became worse and eventually air support was requested,” he said. “And then, sadly, innocent people were killed, along with insurgents who were in the building when that air support was used.”
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained in a press briefing yesterday how knowledge of potential civilian casualties came about.
“At the time, there were two civilians who came forward declaring that they'd been wounded in the action,” the general said. “We did a sweep of the area and did not, at that time, find any other civilian casualties in the rubble.”
Following the search, Dempsey said, a leader of the province came forward and said further searching in the rubble yielded more civilian casualties.
“We don't know, at this point, the scope and scale of it,” he said. “As you know, we do our very best to avoid civilian casualties, so this investigation will try to determine if there were civilian casualties and then we will take the appropriate actions.”
Kirby pointed out while there was a loss of civilian lives, “we also know that we killed a number of insurgents, as well.”
“[But] as I said before, we take these allegations – if they’re proven that we have harmed innocent civilians – very seriously, as evidenced by General Allen’s trip there today,” he said.
“But we also work very hard to limit civilian casualties and when they’re caused, we atone for that,” Kirby said. “The Taliban doesn’t. The Taliban causes far more civilian casualties than we do, and oftentimes, it’s deliberate and malicious.”