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McChrystal Calls for Joint U.S.-Afghan Review of Kunar Incident

More on the murky aftermath of a joint U.S.-Afghan raid in Kunar province this weekend that left nine Afghans (civilians? insurgents?) dead and generated further acrimony between the Afghan government and the U.S. military. As accusations fly from Afghan politicians about inappropriate military activities, the International Security Assistance Force — NATO’s Afghanistan command, led by Gen. Stanley McChrystal — has released this statement, calling for an “immediate joint investigation to reach an impartial and accurate determination of the events that occurred.”

On 26 December, a joint Coalition and Afghan Security Force entered the village of Ghazi Khan in the Narang district of Kunar Province, in order to locate a known insurgent group responsible for a series of violent attacks in the area. As the joint assault force entered the village, they came under fire from several buildings and in returning fire killed nine individuals. Several assault rifles, ammunition, and ammonium nitrate used in bomb-making were discovered.

An initial review by a Government of Afghanistan delegation asserted that the dead were unarmed civilians removed by international forces from their homes and shot. While there is no direct evidence to substantiate these claims, ISAF has requested and welcomes an immediate joint investigation to reach an impartial and accurate determination of the events that occurred.

ISAF is a committed partner with the government and people of Afghanistan, and as such we embrace the responsibility to conduct our operations with the strictest degree of constraint to avoid civilian casualties. If we fail to meet this highest standard to which we subject ourselves, we will always look within to improve our capacity to avert unintended consequences in the future.

Behind that offer of cooperation is a feeling of distrust among McChrystal’s command over getting railroaded by an unpopular government that is trying to demonstrate its populist credentials — particularly after a fraud-marred election returned President Hamid Karzai to power. Yet McChrystal has called the sensibilities of Afghans “strategically decisive” to the war, so there is little option for him besides a joint inquiry.

I also heard over email from Sayed Khalid, who led a protest in Kabul against the U.S. military for the Kunar raid. I asked him how much of a sense he had of what happened on the ground in Kunar, an eastern province. Khalid’s reply:

We have got repeated accounts from the local people and representatives confirming that the children were shot dead. I don’t think the Taliban are that much strong in propaganda to make officials and shura members say what the militants want.

Personally, I haven’t [gone] into the Kunar hillsides to look into this, but we are convinced that the account is true, [unless] otherwise proved wrong with accurate evidences. An MP from Kunar, who just returned to Kabul, also spoke to the rally, and confirmed that the children were killed, and all the peoply were so angry at that.

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