"Air-raiding villages and killing civilians"

In Nashua, NH, Monday, Obama said that the U.S. has "gotta get the job done" in Afghanistan which "requires us to have enough troops that we're not just air raiding villages and killing civilians which is causing enormous problems there. It means that we have enough civilian support, agricultural specialists, people who are engineers, people who are building schools and so forth to help the Afghani government do a better job of delivering on behalf of its people."

The chairman of the RNC, Mike Duncan, is among those trying to fan the flames of any controversy those comments might cause, today issuing a statement decrying "Barack Obama’s offensive statement in New Hampshire that our men and women serving in Afghanistan are just ‘air-raiding villages and killing civilians.’ It is hard to imagine that anyone who aspires to be Commander in Chief would say such a thing about our brave men and women in uniform. Obama owes our armed forces an apology -- today.”

What are we to make of this? Clearly the U.S. is not "just" air-raiding villages and killing civilians...

But as the Washington Post pointed out (LINK), "Much of the U.S. military's emphasis here, however, remains on killing or capturing insurgents, ...(b)ut energetic pursuit of insurgents has produced another problem -- a mounting toll of civilian casualties, mostly in bombing raids. The deaths have inflamed public opinion, turned many Afghans against the foreign forces and further strained (Afghan president Hamid) Karzai's credibility. 'Sooner or later, every liberating force becomes an occupying force,' said one Western analyst here. 'A majority of Afghans were glad to see the coalition arrive in 2001, and most of them still are, but collateral damage and cultural insensitivity are key issues here. Even if the Taliban are using civilians as human shields, in the court of public opinion it is still the foreign forces that killed them."

This was addressed by President Bush during his visit with Karzai earlier this month (LINK).

"Let me comment on the civilian casualties, if I might," said the president. First, I fully understand the angst, the agony and the sorrow that Afghan citizens feel when an innocent life is lost. I know that must cause grief in villages and heartbreak in homes.

"Secondly, I can assure the Afghan people, like I assured the President, that we do everything we can to protect the innocent; that our military operations are mindful that innocent life might be exposed to danger, and we adjust accordingly.

"Thirdly, it is the Taliban who surround themselves with innocent life as human shields. The Taliban are the cold-blooded killers. The Taliban are the murderers. The Taliban have no regard for human life. And therefore, we've spent some time talking about -- as the President rightly expressed his concerns about civilian casualty. And I assured him that we share those concerns."

Karzai, for his part, said he "had a good discussion with President Bush on civilian casualties. I'm very happy to tell you that President Bush felt very much with the Afghan people, that he calls the Afghan people allies in the war against terror, and friends, and that he is as much concerned as I am, as the Afghan people are. I was very happy with that conversation." Did Obama step in it? Or is this much ado about nothing?

-- jpt

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