Collateral damage in Wall Street, Afghan wars

Bankers on Wall Street, babies in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon finally concluded on Wednesday that U.S. troops did not kill seven Afghan civilians in an August air strike.

Actually, it was 33, including babies and toddlers, the U.S. Central Command finally acknowledged after being forced to investigate what it initially called a "successful" raid.

Oops. But the Pentagon got its mimeographs cranking almost immediately to try to contain the damage. An AP story carried by the BBC and other outlets reports:

A US military inquiry has found that an air strike on militants in western Afghanistan on 22 August killed many more civilians than first acknowledged.

US Central Command said 33 civilians, not seven, had died in the village of Azizabad in Herat province. While voicing regret, it said US forces had followed rules of engagement.

Afghan officials and the United Nations feared at the time that up to 90 people had died in the strike on Azizabad, including 60 children.

Video footage, apparently of the aftermath of the raid, showed some 40 dead bodies lined up under sheets and blankets inside a mosque.

The majority of the dead captured on the video were children, babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they were barely recognisable.

US forces had originally said seven civilians were killed in a "successful" US raid targeting a Taleban commander in Azizabad.

Now for the damage control. In a press release today entitled "Official Reaffirms Commitment to Preventing Civilian Casualties," the Pentagon's Donna Miles puts this bloodbath through the spin cycle:

As a follow-on investigation into an operation by Afghan National Army and U.S. forces in western Afghanistan that claimed civilian lives nears completion, a senior defense official here emphasized the U.S. military's strong record of accountability and follow-through.

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No doubt.

Working hard to stanch this gaping wound, U.S. military officials fire at will:

Pentagon flack Bryan Whitman: "No other military in the world goes to a greater extent to prevent civilian casualties. This is something that we take very seriously, and when we have allegations of loss of innocent life, we investigate it."

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: "We're very concerned about this; it's a high priority for us. We work at that hard, work at it harder, and then take another look to see what more we can do to limit innocent people who are killed when we go after our enemies."

Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan: "That certainly is one of my top challenges, to try to make sure we have the right measures in place to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties."

OK, OK, we get the point. But would it kill you to at least use the words "sorry" or "regret"?

At least we know similar tragedies won't happen again, because at this moment, Gates is in Macedonia trying to drum up some troops for the increasingly grim Afghan War.

The Pentagon story "Gates Urges Southeastern European Nations to Send Troops to Afghanistan" notes:

Macedonia has 135 troops in Afghanistan and 80 in Iraq. It also has participated in many NATO exercises, and is considering augmenting its presence in Afghanistan as its forces end their deployment to Iraq in December, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Philip T. Reeker said.

Yes, if you want peacekeepers, you naturally turn to the Balkans.

Or maybe send the Balkans troops to Wall Street and investment bankers to Afghanistan. Nothing's working in either place.

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