Two days into the offensive to clear the city of Marja in Helmand province, the Coalition suffered its first public relations setback after two guided rockets went off target and accidentally killed 12 Afghan civilians. From the ISAF press release:
Two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launched at insurgents firing upon Afghan and ISAF forces impacted approximately 300 meters off their intended target, killing 12 civilians in Nad Ali district, Helmand Province today.
ISAF Commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal conveyed his apologies to President Hamid Karzai for this unfortunate incident. “We deeply regret this tragic loss of life,” said McChrystal. “The current operation in Central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It’s regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents.”
Marja is a city with an estimated population of 100,000. More than 15,000 troops are involved in the assault; civilian casualties are inevitable. ISAF’s response isn’t to just apologize, but to deprive the assault force of the use of the HIMARs:
The use of the HIMARS has been suspended until a thorough review of this incident has been conducted. The original target of the two rockets was a compound where insurgents were delivering accurate, direct fire on an Afghan-ISAF joint team. An Afghan National Army soldier and ISAF service member had been injured by the insurgent fire.