A senior military officer says the allegations of a massacre of civilians by U.S. Marines in Iraq may hurt military operations there. The comments came after published reports contradicted initial official accounts of the incident.
Speaking at the Pentagon Wednesday, Brigadier General Carter Ham would not directly comment on the ongoing probes into the deaths of at least 15 civilians in the town of Haditha in November.
"There are as most of you know two investigations under way. It would be inappropriate from here to talk about what may or may not come from those investigations," general Ham saya.
U.S. Marines operating in Haditha have said the civilians were killed by a bomb and gunfire during an insurgent attack on the Marines. But local civilians have sharply disputed that account, saying the Marines massacred unarmed civilians. A report published in Wednesday's New York Times says a military investigator turned up information earlier this year that appeared to contradict the Marines' story and back up the residents' claims.
President Bush said Wednesday he is troubled by the allegations and pledged a thorough investigation.
General Ham, who is deputy director of operations for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon, says the allegations, whether true or not, can have a negative impact on U.S military operations in Iraq.
"As the Coalition forces operate inside Iraq, we need the consent of the Iraqi government in order to operate in the manner in which we would like to operate, which is in support of them," general Ham saya. "Allegations such as this, regardless of how they're borne out by the facts, can have an effect on the ability of U.S. forces to continue to operate."
White House press secretary Tony Snow said the results of the probe would be made public in matter of, as he put it, weeks not months.