The Afghan Airstrike That Won’t Go Away

U.S. Team to Reinvestigate Deadly Strike In Afghanistan

By Candace Rondeaux and Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Foreign Service
Tuesday, September 9, 2008; A01
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, Sept. 8 — The U.S. Central Command will send a senior team, headed by a general and including a legal affairs officer, to reinvestigate a U.S. air attack last month that U.N. and Afghan officials say killed 90 civilians, amid mounting public outrage in Afghanistan and evidence that conflicts with the military’s initial version of events.
The U.S. decision to again probe the Aug. 21 attack in Azizabad, near the western city of Herat, came at the urging of Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top NATO commander in Afghanistan. McKiernan said he was prompted by “emerging evidence” that threw into question the finding of a U.S. investigation that five to seven civilians died. McKiernan had earlier said he concurred with that finding.
. . . Underlying the dispute over civilian casualties are a lack of communication, a diffuse command structure and differing military rules of engagement.
. . . “The footage that is there on this shows horrendous pictures of these bodies and clearly identifies women and children. In some cases, the bodies are not in one piece,” a U.N. official said, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “Whether you say it was 76 or 82 or even 92 — it was clearly not seven who were killed there.”
. . . In a statement , McKiernan said: “The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth.”
Which is of course, more than the U.S. Military has been willing to give the American people. So, that’s a start.
Elsewhere in the paper this morning, are the serious charges that a retired general has been doing end-runs around the constitutionally mandated chain of command in the execution of the Iraq war. Gen. Jack Keane (ret) has been charged by a non-military tribunal (Bob Woodward) of subverting the Pentagon and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff by acting as water-carrier between Cheney, Bush and Petraeus.
Not only that, but (if we can believe Woodward’s sources) inserting his well-oiled, but retired, oar into the strategic water assigned to others. By law and precedent, the president is required to honor the military chain of command and not seek to subvert it by undermining his chiefs of the various military branches.
He must, as Donald Rumsfeld might have put it, work with the Joint Chiefs he has rather than the Joint Chiefs he might wish to have. Unless he asks for their resignation, as Harry Truman famously asked of General Douglas McArthur.
This president, appointed himself ‘the decider,’ in bold challenge to constitutional precepts separating the powers of the executive, judicial and legislative branches of our government. Facing the normal political opposition central to the health and welfare of a viable republic, he merely fired up his chain-saw and cut off those troublesome branches, legal and legislative, that offended him.
What began with the dismissal of Eric Shinsecki, was not lost on the military. Admiral Fallon joins Shinsecki as the metaphoric bookends of a wrecked, demoralized and tottering military. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are in there as well, setting the stage for the arrogant refusal to admit military strikes gone wrong in Afghanistan and the concurrent and unacceptable killings of civilians.
General McKiernan will butter this one over as well, if he values his retirement above his honor. The Afghans know it, the United Nations knows it, NATO knows it, what is left of our Joint Chiefs know it and the world has become poorer for that knowledge.


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