Despite bending over backwards, hampering our own operations, creating greater risk for our soldiers, genuflecting to Afghan president Karzai, and putting a huge emphasis on avoiding civilian casualties, the inevitable occurred again today. An air attack by U.S. helicopter gunships killed 23 civilians, including women and children, who had mistakenly been identified as insurgents.
This accident illustrates yet again why pretending that we can avoid civilian casualties is a bad idea. We are making promises that are simply unrealistic given the nature of warfare. Accidents are going to happen, and civilians are going to keep dying, no matter how many precautions we take. General McChrystal issued a video statement and said,
“I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans.”Issuing such a statement is a terrible idea. We are feeding the mistaken impression that we can realistically do much more to minimize civilian casualties. If we keep spinelessly apologizing, and keep pretending we are going to do better, the Afghan reaction is going to be even worse the next time we inevitably screw up and kill a bunch of civilians. And then there is Karzai, who certainly isn't helping
Karzai’s office said in a statement that the president “reminded the NATO commander that the issue of civilian casualties was a major hurdle against an effective war on terror and it must stop.”I can think of few people less qualified to pontificate on how to fight an "effective war on terror" than this corrupt, ineffective leader who is little more than a glorified mayor of Kabul. Karzai owes his position, and probably his continued existence to the U.S. and NATO forces. Instead of providing free enemy propaganda about civilian casualties, it would be nice if he was actually working on our side in an attempt to mitigate the impact of such accidents. But no, he'd rather inflame the situation.
Civilians die in wars. Intelligence is frequently mistaken. Targets get misidentified. And in the circumstances of the Afghan War, it is often difficult to tell friend from foe. Let's stop pretending that we can do much more to minimize civilian casualties, and stop obsessing about them. It's pointless and counterproductive.