Afghan commander’s aide blames deaths on Taliban

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A defense official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to project his job, said he also thought the change of commander was prompted by political concerns involving the loss of civilian lives.

Mr. Karzai has long been outspoken about the need to minimize U.S. air strikes because of civilian deaths, which he said gives the Taliban a propaganda victory and undermines his government’s ability to quell the militants.

On Thursday, U.S. officials acknowledged that civilian deaths in Farah province may have been caused by U.S. air strikes. But Col. Julian said a subsequent investigation indicated that the Taliban forced many of the civilians into front-line buildings, where they were told to pick up weapons to shoot at Afghan police.

The Afghan army was called in to back up the police but the fighting intensified, the colonel said. The Afghan army was also under severe fire so the governor of Farah province called the U.S. military for help.

Another defense official involved in the operation, who spoke on the condition he not be named to protect his position, confirmed that the Afghans called for U.S. help.

“At first the Afghans were grateful, so were others in the U.S. as well,” the defense official said.

Taliban insurgents have been waging effective propaganda warfare against U.S. and allied forces by exploiting civilian casualties, some caused by bombing raids and others the result of secret U.S. special operations raids.

Asked about the problem of civilian casualties, Col. Julian said he is “constantly battling allegations of civilian casualties, and it is true that sometimes civilians are accidentally caught in the crossfire.”

“It is a fact that the insurgents create deliberate situations to cause civilian casualties that can be blamed on our forces, they exaggerate, they lie, and they deliberately target Afghan civilians,” he stated in an e-mail.

In one recent incident, a bus carrying Afghan civilians was blown up by an insurgent improvised explosive device and “we later discovered that it was command detonated.”

A second case involved a woman who was shot by either U.S. or enemy fire, he said. “However, we are the ones that medevac all casualties and treat them.”

About the Author
Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz

Bill Gertz is a national security columnist for The Washington Times and senior editor at The Washington Free Beacon (www.freebeacon.com). He has been with The Times since 1985.

He is the author of six books, four of them national best-sellers. His latest book, “The Failure Factory,” on government bureaucracy and national security, was published in September 2008.

Mr. ...

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