A late August US air strike in Herat Province which killed at least 90 civilians, most of them children, according to both the United Nations and the Afghan government has been a matter of continuing embarrassment for international forces and a source of tension between the troops and the Afghan populace. The United States long disputed the civilian toll, saying even after condemnations by Afghan President Hamid Karzai that they were “very confident” that only militants were killed, but finally has raised the number of civilians killed to 33.
Rather than admitting that their initial findings were in error however, Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said simply that “sometimes the truth can change.” They had previously accused Afghans who spoke of a higher death toll of spreading “outrageous Taliban propaganda.”
And indeed, even now that they are conceding to killing at least dozens of Afghan civilians (though still a far lower number than the other investigations), the report maintains that the killings were legitimate self-defense. Rear Admiral Greg Smith says the matter is now closed and no disciplinary action will be taken against those involved in the killings.
Lt. General Martin Dempsey blamed the toll on a “ruthless enemy” who “routinely surround themselves with innocents.” This is in stark contrast to an Afghan inquiry which ruled the attack was based on a false tip by a rival tribesman. The Afghan government has maintained that not a single militant was killed in the strike.