KABUL -- A biting U.S. military report released Saturday criticized "inaccurate and unprofessional" reporting by operators of unmanned drones for contributing to a mistaken February airstrike that killed and injured dozens of civilians in southern Afghanistan.
As many as 23 people were killed in the attack in Uruzgan province, where a strike intended for what military officials believed was an insurgent force hit a civilian convoy. The incident was condemned by the Afghan cabinet as "unacceptable," and it prompted Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, to apologize to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
The U.S. military said in a statement that four senior officers were reprimanded and two junior officers were admonished in connection with the strike -- disciplinary actions that could damage their careers. In a memo accompanying the military report, McChrystal announced bolstered training to prevent similar incidents in the future, and he asked the U.S. Air Force to investigate the Predator team.
McChrystal has made it a top priority to reduce civilian casualties as the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan has shifted from killing Taliban members to protecting the Afghan populace. He has restricted the use of airstrikes, night raids and home searches, all in a bid to quell public hostility.
"Inadvertently killing or injuring civilians is heartbreaking and undermines their trust and confidence in our mission," McChrystal said in a statement.
The Feb. 21 incident in Uruzgan occurred when a U.S. helicopter fired Hellfire missiles and rockets on a three-vehicle convoy approaching the village of Khod, where U.S. Special Forces and Afghan troops were battling Taliban fighters. A Special Forces ground commander had determined the convoy was carrying militants arriving to provide backup to the fighters, according to the report, written by Maj. Gen. Timothy P. McHale...[Full Article]