Lessons Learned

In what has been reported as Afghanistan’s deadliest military incident since 2001, as many as 140 Afghan civilians were killed. The culprit: U.S.-initiated airstrikes.

Though there is disparity between U.S. and Afghan estimates, the civilian deaths were widely reported, sparking outrage in this vast, dangerous nation.

Despite the somewhat familiar scenario, absent has been U.S. military leadership’s outrage, quick judgments, and gushing of insincere apologies. No servicemembers have been in stocks in the town square. (We made that up.) No units tossed out from the country. (We did not make that up.) The sky is still intact. Now less than two months after the May 4 incident, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs Adm. Mike Mullen has said he doubts action will be taken against the American fighters.

This is a significant change and one stemming from lessons learned, according to one source familiar with a deadly Marine incident.

The bombings in Taliban territory (Farah Province in western Afghanistan) increased tension between the U.S. and President Hamid Karzai’s government. While killing the people you are trying to win over can present a problem, this is war and such damage is sometimes unavoidable. (Does anyone recall World War II?)

People die. Innocent people die in war.

There is serious talk of scaling back U.S. airstrikes, especially now with special operations guru Army Gen. Stanley McChrystal in charge of operations. He has said he hopes to shift his units from a hot combat mentality more to one of saving the people of Afghanistan. (It is no secret if the U.S. can break the code with the Afghan people, ideally, Taliban Man goes away.)

Lesson learned: innocent people die … in bombings … in firefights. In 2007, Army Lt. Gen. Francis H. Kearney III, U.S. Central Command’s head of special operations, and Brig. Gen. John Nicholson, now back in southern Afghanistan, seemed quick to lose confidence in the U.S. Marine Corps special operations units in the country and kicked them out of Afghanistan. Today, things might have turned out differently.

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