January 28th, 2009
02:00 PM ET

The U.S. Military's PR problem in Afghanistan

[cnn-photo-caption image=http://i2.cdn.turner.com/cnn/2008/POLITICS/11/19/pentagon.budget/art.shoot.gi.jpg caption="A U.S. soldier fires at Taliban targets during a battle in eastern Afghanistan last month."]

Mike Mount
CNN Senior Producer

Civilian deaths by U.S. forces in Afghanistan is a hot-button issue for President Karzai. He is known for not holding back when railing on the U.S. after a ground or air raid on an insurgent target where women and children were also killed.

The U.S. military understands his frustration but is often put in a difficult position when insurgents use the tactic of barricading themselves in mosques or homes.

The U.S. Commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan has also addressed the problem by implementing tactics in an attempt to reduce civilian deaths.

But yesterday, Defense Secretary Robert Gates told a Senate panel Karzai’s rhetoric on civilian deaths from U.S. attacks is, “unhelpful.”

Pentagon spokesmen would also not elaborate on his comments, saying the comments stood on their own.

“I don't believe that his rhetoric has been helpful, and I must tell you that when I was last there and visited Bagram, I got a briefing on the procedures that our pilots go through to try and avoid civilian casualties…I took a significant element of the Afghan press with me with their cameras so that they could see that briefing and see just how hard we do work at trying to avoid civilian casualties,” Gates said.

U.S. military leaders understand that President Karzai is also candidate Karzai for upcoming elections this year and he is keeping his constituency happy.

However, Pentagon officials do say that the continued comments by the Afghan president are making it difficult for US troops - the more Karzai bashes commanders the more a gulf grows between the relationship of locals and U.S. troops.

Both Gates and Joint Chiefs Chairman, Adm. Michael Mullen have spoken to President Karzai about his concerns on numerous occasions, officials said, and have related their same concerns on civilian deaths.

Pentagon officials said it is a touchy subject, but, “it’s not in our place to tell the President of another country of what he can or cannot say.”

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Filed under: Afghanistan • Mike Mount • Pentagon
soundoff (One Response)
  1. S.H.Moulana

    Taleban policies, we know, are totally outdated and wouldn't have suited even those who lived in the 16th century. American forces went into Afghanistan in search of those who were involved in the 9/11 tragedy. Obviously most of them Arabs- Al Qaeda but US direction gradually changed and went after Saddam who had nothing to do with 9/11. George Bush was misguided by the vicious Dick Cheney who finally left the administration on the last day in a wheel chair. The new president should now refocus the Amrican policies in the region. Afghan war is a waste of time and money. If you decide to continue it may go on for centuries.

    January 29, 2009 at 4:52 am |