Over the weekend, Afghan President Hamid Karzai informed General David Petraeus that US apologies for civilian deaths in Afghanistan are no longer sufficient. In response, Defense Secretary Robert Gates made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Monday.
Apologies are not sufficient when it comes to civilian casualties, Afghan President Hamid Karzai told the NATO commander Sunday, days after a NATO airstrike killed nine Afghan boys.
Karzai told Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, that incidents of civilian casualties during coalition military operations are the main reason for tensions in the U.S.-Afghan relationship and he demanded there be no more, according to a statement from Karzai’s office.
Even President Obama is in on the apology parade:
U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed regret for the deaths, calling it a “tragic accident.” A White House statement said Obama and Karzai agreed that such incidents undermine shared U.S. and Afghan efforts in fighting terrorism.
Perhaps because Karzai sees the apologies as not sufficient, Defense Secretary Gates suddenly appeared in Afghanistan Monday:
Defense Secretary Robert Gates met Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday at a time of increased strain between Kabul and its Western backers and with important security transition milestones looming.
Karzai complained ahead of Gates’s unannounced visit after nine Afghan children were mistakenly killed by helicopters from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).
Even Reuters, in this same article, strains to put a positive spin on NATO “progress” in Afghanistan:
Gates is expected to visit parts of southern and eastern Afghanistan where NATO commanders say they have weakened the Taliban and created “bubbles” of security they hope to link up.
tool spokesperson Geoff Morrell tried to put a positive spin on the trip in a Defense Department press release:
Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said Gates will visit areas in regional commands South and East, where he will meet with troops and assess progress on the ground.
Gates has settled into a regular rhythm of Afghanistan visits, averaging a trip each quarter, Morrell said.
“Frequent, regular visits provide him with good measuring sticks to determine how rapidly progress is being made,” Morrell said, noting that the secretary has repeatedly said visiting forces in the field and getting their assessment of conditions is the most important part of his trips.
Those on-the-ground assessments have been positive over the last few visits, Morrell said, with troops and leaders who are “taking on the Taliban” expressing confidence in their Afghan counterparts and reporting improved security conditions in former Taliban-controlled areas.
After painting this rosy picture of “progress” and how Gates loves measuring that progress himself, Morrell then moves on to noting that Gates will meet with Karzai. What will Gates have to offer to Karzai to get him to join the happy chorus on US “progress”?
Here is the video apology from Petraeus’ number two in command in Afghanistan, Lieutenant General David M. Rodriguez, issued last week:
What I haven’t seen in any of these “apologies” is even the beginning of an explanation of how helicopter gunners could possibly have mistaken boys as young as nine years old for enemy insurgents. How can Rodriguez, Petraeus, Gates and Obama believe that their apologies will be seen as sincere when they haven’t addressed such a huge issue?
Update: It appears that an apology and some tears from Gates have been enough for Karzai to now say he accepts the apology.