By Spencer S. Hsu
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 11, 2009
National security adviser James L. Jones said yesterday that the U.S. military should keep open the option of airstrikes against Taliban forces in western Afghanistan, but he acknowledged warnings by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that civilian deaths from such attacks are damaging both governments' moral standing and support.
The Afghan government says as many as 130 civilians were killed last Monday and Tuesday by U.S. bombs. Such a toll would rank as the deadliest incident since U.S. forces began fighting in Afghanistan in 2001, but U.S. officials called the number of casualties "extremely overexaggerated."
"Civilian casualties are undermining support in the Afghan people for the war on terrorism and for the relations with America," Karzai said on NBC's "Meet the Press." "How can you expect a people who keep losing their children to remain friendly?"
Jones and Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top U.S. military commander over the region, said the United States will redouble efforts to ensure that military commanders understand the need to minimize civilian casualties.
Petraeus, who heads U.S. Central Command, promised "a very thorough investigation," but he said Taliban fighters bear "enormous blame" for the toll in Farah province last week, when they apparently used civilians as human shields as they clashed with U.S. forces.
"We're going to take a look at trying to make sure that we correct those things we can correct," Jones said on ABC's "This Week," "but certainly to tie the hands of our commanders and say we're not going to conduct airstrikes, it would be imprudent."
Jones added: "What makes it difficult is the Taliban, of course, not playing by the same rules."