Pentagon Has Video of Afghan Civilian Casualty Incident

19 May 2009

Kabul University demonstrators hold photos of aftermath of Farah province airstrikes, shout anti-US slogans, 10 May 2009
Kabul University demonstrators hold photos of aftermath of Farah province airstrikes, shout anti-US slogans, 10 May 2009
The Pentagon says it has video of the incident in Afghanistan's Farah Province two weeks ago, in which a U.S. air strike apparently killed some Afghan civilians.  But U.S. officials dispute the Afghan government claim that as many as 140 civilians were killed.  

At a news conference Tuesday, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell acknowledged that the video exists, and is part of the continuing investigation, but he would not provide details.

"We do have gun camera video that's being analyzed," said Geoff Morrell. "I'm not going to get into descriptions of it beyond what I have said here."

Pessin: "Were bombs put on houses that the Taliban had fled into?"

Morrell: "I'm not going to go beyond where I've gone at this point."

Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell (2008 file photo)
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell (2008 file photo)
Morrell was responding to a report by National Public Radio that the video shows Taliban fighters running into private houses, which are then hit by American bombs.  That would contradict reports from local residents that the Taliban had fled the village before the air strike, but it could also lend credence to claims that the air strike killed civilians.  

Morrell would only say the U.S. war planes were called in by Afghan troops who needed help during a battle against the Taliban, and that any civilian casualties were accidental.

"The initial indication from things looks as though the close air support was very measured and that there was a great deal of care to ensure it was proportional to the threat faced by the forces on the ground," he said.

The Pentagon spokesman says the American investigation is being led by a senior officer, and that the work is not yet finished.  

On Tuesday, National Public Radio quoted Brigadier General Mark Ryan, who it said was the first U.S. investigator on the scene, as saying there were some civilian casualties, but so far it appears the Afghan figure of 140 is hugely inflated, and the real number may be closer to 22.  U.S. officials say it may be impossible to determine the exact number because no investigative work was done on the bodies, and they were buried quickly after the attack, in keeping with Muslim custom.

Earlier Tuesday, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the new U.S. ambassador, retired Lieutenant General Karl Eikenberry, visited Farah Province and met with more than one thousand people at a mosque in the provincial capital.  Both men apologized for the civilian deaths and pledged renewed efforts to prevent such incidents.  U.S. officials also note that Taliban fighters often hide in civilian areas and exaggerate civilian casualties.

At the Pentagon news conference, Press Secretary Geoff Morrell also said the U.S. Senate will begin considering the nominations of the newly assigned U.S. commanders for Afghanistan on June second, and he hopes they will take up their posts soon after that.  

Morrell says the new commander, Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal and his new deputy, Lieutenant General David Rodriguez, will have the job of formulating a new plan to implement military aspects of President Obama's new strategy.  The plan the president announced in late April calls for the defeat of the Taliban and al-Qaida, the protection of Afghan civilians and efforts to build Afghan society.