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As Afghan civilian deaths rise, NATO says, 'Sorry.'
As Afghan civilian deaths rise, NATO says, 'Sorry.'
May 30, 2024 9:32 AM

  In the Afghanistan war, NATO forces chief Gen. Stanley McChrystal publicly apologized Tuesday for 27 Afghan civilian deaths in a US airstrike. The coalition has begun saying 'sorry' more quickly to civilian deaths, as part of a new hearts and minds strategy.

  In a video distributed Tuesday in Dari and Pashto, the main languages spoken in Afghanistan, the top NATO commander there Gen. Stanley McChrystal said he was sorry to the nation for 27 civilian deaths, after US special forces killed a convoy of Afghan civilians they had mistaken for fighters. It was the coalition’s deadliest 'mistake' in six months.

  While public apologies by NATO have become almost commonplace – this was just one of half a dozen in the past 10 days, and the second by McChrystal himself – the push to admit mistakes and say sorry is unprecedented in NATO’s nine-year intervention in Afghanistan. It fits into McChyrstal’s new strategy that prioritizes winning over the population.

  “I have instituted a thorough investigation to prevent this from happening again,” he said. “I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans. Most importantly, I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief and will keep them in our thoughts and prayers.”

  For years, stonewalling

  For years, foreign forces there were grudging in their apologies, trying to spin big mistakes into smaller mistakes and refusing to comment on civilian casualties until torturously slow and opaque inquiries ended. If any blame was admitted, it was usually too long after the event to sound sincere.

  NATO has shifted on the communications front. In the past 10 days alone, it has admitted that airstrikes in Kunduz and Kandahar Provinces last week killed five civilians and a handful of Afghan policemen, and that a rocket strike in the Marjah offensive in Helmand Province left at least nine bystanders dead. Troops there have also shot and killed civilians they have mistaken for fighters. Each time an explanation has been forthcoming.

  Apologies, apologies

  Afghans are circumspect about the change in tone. “Does this apology mean there won’t be any other civilian casualties in future?” says Abdul Jabar, a carpenter from the eastern province of Wardak. “If it does then I appreciate it.”

  Mohammad Yassir, a shopkeeper in Kabul, is less receptive. “I want to ask McChrystal if he had lost his family in such an incident,” he says. “And if someone called to apologize, what would his reaction be? An apology doesn’t bring anyone back to life.”

  PHOTO CAPTION

  US troops with NATO patrol near the site of an explosion near Jalalabad, Nangarhar province, east of Kabul, Afghanistan, Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2010.

  Source: Agencies

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