ISAF apologizes for civilian deaths in Kunar

ISAF, and General Petraeus, have apologized for a March 1 helicopter strike in Kunar province that killed nine boys who were collecting firewood. The statement, in full, is below:

Preliminary findings from a Joint Incident Assessment Team indicate that International Security Assistance Forces accidentally killed nine civilians in Darah-Ye Pech district, Kunar province yesterday.

The incident occurred following insurgent rocket attacks on FOB Blessing. Coalition forces returned fire at the assessed point of origin with indirect and aerial fire. Regrettably there appears to have been an error in the hand-off between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations.

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” said General David. H. Petraeus, Commander of International Security Assistance Force. “These deaths should have never happened and I will personally apologize to President Karzai when he returns from his trip to London this week.”

“This event is particularly distressing given the recent direction I gave to commanders to review our tactical directive that is intended to reduce civilian casualties to the absolute minimum,” said Petraeus. “Regardless of the outcome of this investigation, I have ordered all ISAF leaders and members of ISAF attack helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the tactical directive, reinforcing the need to be sure we protect the lives of innocent Afghans as we pursue a ruthless enemy.”

ISAF accepts full responsibility for this tragedy and will continue to thoroughly investigate this incident to understand why this happened and try to prevent this from happening in the future. Should the facts of the investigation warrant it, appropriate action, include disciplinary action if necessary, will be taken.

US forces have begun to pull back from patrol bases in the Pech Valley, and plan on making up the shortcoming by increasing air patrols in the area, as well as being replaced by Afghan troops.

The incident above is not the same as the Feb. 17 incident in Kunar where ISAF has been accused of killing 65 civilians, mostly women and children. ISAF maintains that between 30-35 Taliban fighters were killed in that incident, while the Afghan government insists those killed were civilians. General Petraeus reportedly caused a stir with President Karzai after stating that parents were encouraged by the Taliban to burn their children to simulate injuries, then take them to the hospital.

Bill Roggio is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and the Editor of FDD's Long War Journal.

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