U.S. Pays And Apologizes To Kin Of Afghans Killed

Team Infidel

Forum Spin Doctor
New York Times
May 9, 2007
By David S. Cloud
WASHINGTON, May 8 — An Army commander apologized and paid compensation on Tuesday to families of Afghan civilians killed by marines after a suicide attack in March, in the first formal acknowledgment by the American authorities that the killings were unjustified.
Col. John Nicholson, an Army brigade commander in eastern Afghanistan, met Tuesday with the families of the 19 Afghans killed and 50 wounded when a Marine Special Operations unit opened fire on a crowded stretch of road near Jalalabad after a suicide bomber in a vehicle rammed their convoy.
“I stand before you today, deeply, deeply ashamed and terribly sorry that Americans have killed and wounded innocent Afghan people,” Colonel Nicholson said, recounting to reporters the words he had used in the meetings. In a videoconference to reporters at the Pentagon, he added, “We made official apologies on the part of the U.S. government” and paid $2,000 for each death.
The incident is already the subject of a criminal investigation by the Pentagon. But the decision to issue a public apology now reflects the military’s growing concern that recent civilian casualties have led to widespread ill will among Afghans and could jeopardize military operations.
“Any time we’re responsible for the loss of innocent life, we understand that that hurts our ability to accomplish the mission,” Bryan Whitman, a Pentagon spokesman, said Tuesday.
The American military considers offering payments to relatives of victims vital in allaying anger among civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq, where the military regularly makes payments when it kills noncombatants.
Such payments are sometimes accompanied by statements saying that the military is not acknowledging that its soldiers acted improperly. But in this case, Colonel Nicholson went further than usual in acknowledging that the civilians were “innocent Afghans.”
“This is a terrible, terrible mistake, and my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering,” he said in his statement to the families. “We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness.”
The company commander and the senior enlisted member from the unit involved in the incident were relieved of duty last month. With six other marines involved, they were returned to Camp Lejeune, N.C., until the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigation Service is completed, said Maj. Cliff W. Gilmore, a spokesman for the Marine Special Operations Command.
Criminal charges could be brought against at least five marines involved, a Marine official has said.
Anger among Afghans at American tactics has seemed to intensify since the March 4 incident. After an incident this month in western Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai warned at a news conference that continuing civilian casualties would not be tolerated.
Afghan officials assert that, in the May incident, dozens of civilians were killed after a joint American and Afghan Army patrol was ambushed near Shindand and called in airstrikes. About 40 civilians, including women and children, were killed and 50 were wounded in the attacks, officials from Herat Province have told reporters.
The American military last weekend said more than 10 Taliban commanders had been among those killed in the fighting around Shindand, though it did not identify them. But the command has also said that it is investigating with Afghan officials reports that civilians were among the casualties.
Hundreds of Afghans protested after the killings involving member of the marines in March. In response, Maj. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III of the Army, the commander of Special Operations troops in the Middle East and Central Asia, ordered the unit out of Afghanistan after concluding that the killings had damaged the unit’s ability to be effective.
Colonel Nicholson said the Army made extensive efforts to find anyone who might have been wounded on the crowded highway or relatives, including those not from the area.