Nato apologizes for Afghan deaths

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LISA MULLINS: I'm Lisa Mullins, and this is The World. How do you say you're sorry for the accidental killing of a family? That's what Lieutenant Colonel William Johnson had to do last week in Eastern Afghanistan. Johnson offered his apology to the Governor of Nangarhar province. Afghan officials say that the night before, NATO troops killed six civilians, including at least two children in a raid. James Foley is a reporter for Stars and Stripes. He was there at the meeting when Colonel Johnson apologized to the Afghan Governor. The Governor and the Colonel had already arranged to meet prior to the raid. James Foley says he was surprised at how frank the exchange was so soon after the deaths.

JAMES FOLEY: To the unit's credit, they could have made an excuse probably and told me there might not have been room for this meeting, but, they did [indecipherable 00:00:47] at the meeting. The first thing the Colonel did was admit to Governor Sherzai that this airstrike had happened, they killed a family, and that he was very sorry about it.

MULLINS: So Colonel Johnson and the Governor had planned on meeting anyway. What was it going to be about prior to the deaths of these civilians?

FOLEY: The meeting was going to be about basically detaining Afghans, detaining some high-level Afghans who the Calvary suspected were insurgents, were members of the Taliban. The local Afghans wanted to, first of all, find out why they were detained, some specifics, and they wanted to know, hey, tell us before you take your guys, maybe we can bring them in. The US didn't really expect the Afghans to be able to bring in these guys that they wanted, and they weren't really about to tell the Afghans anything specific about these kind of guys they call bad guys who they end up often detaining at night.

MULLINS: So, I wonder if you could bring us in that room where the meeting took place and where Colonel Johnson told the Governor what his troops had done.

FOLEY: Governor Gul Agha Sherzai has a certain presence. He's very charismatic, and he has a reputation for being a true power over from Kandahar who's close to Karzai, and also the suspicion of the taking a cut in some of the opium trade down there in the past. So, Colonel Johnson came in as an equal, sat down next to him, explained to him, and Governor Sherzai sort of nodded, lit up a cigarette. He said, essentially, you know, this is war. These things happen in war. I'm a military man, myself.

He's seen these kind of killings. He's seen probably a lot of things in Kandahar. Essentially, he wanted to make sure that it didn't happen again because he's dealing with plenty of pressure following a terrible bombing in Jalalabad just several days before in which some insurgents dressed up as Afghan forces and went about killing Afghan police and Afghan Army in the back when these Afghans were drawing checks for their paycheck. So he was dealing with a terrible backlash from a killing in which almost 40 Afghan forces were killed and 70 were wounded. This was sort of one more thing that he had to deal with.

MULLINS: Certainly civilian deaths have been something that the military has been addressing, but tell us how frequently things like this happen.

FOLEY: I think it happens quite often to tell you the truth. I have been embedded with a lot of units in areas of very high fighting, and they often tell me they have not had a civilian casualty. To be honest with you, that's hard to believe. But Colonel Johnson told me that this was the first time, and something about him I tend to just believe him.

MULLINS: Did the Colonel give money, as often happens, to the Governor in a case like this?

FOLEY: No, he didn't give money directly to the Governor. What he said he would do was the family would be compensated for the deaths, which brings up the question, who's left to compensate? I don't know. But, I do know that, from what I've seen in the past in Iraq and Afghanistan, the US military pays a certain amount of money per civilian death. It seems very minimal compared to Western standards, sometimes between $1500 and $2000.

MULLINS: What's the practical effect that you've seen, James, of giving families, survivors, in civilian attacks money? What does it accomplish in reality?

FOLEY: I do know that in the tribal structure and in Afghan culture, there are the ideas of payment to redress a feud or a killing.

MULLINS: That was James Foley, a reporter for Stars and Stripes newspaper. He was embedded with a unit of the 101st Airborne in Eastern Afghanistan. He was at a meeting where Lieutenant Colonel William Johnson apologized to a Governor of an Afghan province for our NATO airstrike that killed six civilians.