Here’s U.S. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, speaking to scholars and security experts at the Brookings Institution on May 17: “We cannot succeed in Afghanistan or anywhere else, but let’s talk specifically about Afghanistan, by killing Afghan civilians. … we can’t keep going through incidents like this and expect the strategy to work.”
By this, he meant incidents like the bombing of a village in Farah province earlier that month that killed between 117 and 147 villagers, or the massacre of 90 civilians, 60 of them children, in August 2008, and many other such bombings.
One month later, an American air strike in Pakistan killed more than 60 people.
By June, , Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal was telling The New York Times that the rules would change. The use of airstrikes would be sharply restricted. “Air power contains the seeds of our own destruction if we do not use it responsibly,” he had told his senior officers in a video conference. “We can lose this fight. When we shoot into a compound, that should only be for the protection of our forces. I want everyone to understand that.”
So much for the U.S. military’s comprehension skills.
Last night in the far-north Afghan procince of Kunduz, near the border with Tajikistan, U.S. jets bombed what appeared to them to be a fuel convoy the Taliban had hijacked. They were right about the hijacking. The convoy was expected by NATO forces. Taliban fighters took it over. They were wrong about the victims.
One of the convoy’s trucks got mired in a muddy road. To lighten the load, Taliban drivers opened the tankers’ spigots and invited villagers to take what fuel they could. Nato’s pilots didn’t distinguish between Afghans. They fired. Some 90 people were killed, about half of them civilians. Now the U.S. military is trying to spin the story, to focus attention on the Taliban fighters who were killed, as if their death justifies the overall massacre.