Source: Canadian Press
WASHINGTON _ The U.S. military is delaying release of its investigation into air strikes last month that killed dozens of civilians in Afghanistan, debating whether any more information on the incident should be made public.
Two senior defence officials said Monday the Pentagon was reconsidering a promise last week of an imminent release of a summary of the probe along with supporting video. They spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal Defence Department deliberations while release of the report is on hold.
Officials have already acknowledged publicly that U.S. troops did not follow proper tactics and procedures and that mistakes were made during at least some of the May 4 air strikes targeting Taliban fighters in Farah province. Afghans say 140 civilians were killed, while Americans say the number was about 30.
The findings have been endorsed by Gen. David Petraeus, the head of Central Command, and Defence Secretary Robert Gates received an hour-long classified briefing on the investigation a week ago.
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen and Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, installed Monday as the new top commander in Afghanistan, were briefed a few days before that, officials said.
Asked about the delay, Defence Department spokesman Bryan Whitman would say only that the report was being reviewed.
The subject of how to control civilian deaths has been extremely sensitive in Afghanistan for some time. It takes on greater urgency as the Obama administration launches its new strategy to protect the people and win over popular support for the Afghan government as a way to defeat the insurgency.
Some officials have argued that there is not much more that needs to be said about the incident. The gist of the report, those officials said, has already been announced and the death toll estimate by the U.S. remains the same as it announced some weeks ago _ some 30 civilians and 60-65 Taliban fighters.
U.S. officials have acknowledged, however, that actual casualty numbers may never be known because bodies were buried before the investigation and because of Taliban propaganda.
One problem acknowledged in the May 4 operation was that an Air Force B-1 bomber received permission for a strike, then had to circle around and did not reconfirm its target before finally dropping a 2,000 pound (900 kilogram) bomb.
That left the possibility that civilians had entered the area or that the Taliban had left in the interim. Defence Department press secretary Geoff Morrell said last week that there was no way to know whether that caused civilian casualties, though other officials said previously that mistakes with a number of the strikes likely resulted in some deaths.
McChrystal has said he will review all existing rules of engagement and all tactical directives. But American military commanders on a number of occasions already have reviewed and rewritten the rules _ including those on bombing missions and on how special forces operate _ in an effort to avoid Afghan casualties.