U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into civilian casualties Sunday in Farah Province is not complete, and while he regrets any loss of civilian lives he is not ready to say who killed these particular people. Gates spoke while on a visit to Kabul.
Secretary Gates said he has heard the reports that Taliban forces killed the villagers in Farah province, and then blamed the deaths on a U.S. air strike in the area.
"The information that you cite about the Taliban throwing grenades into houses to create civilian casualties and put the blame on the United States is a report I have heard. But I think we will have to wait and see what the results of the investigation are," he said.
Gates: exploiting civilian deaths is Taliban strategy
Secretary Gates told American and Afghan reporters that when the coalition causes civilian casualties it is by accident, but Taliban forces kill civilians deliberately.
"Fundamentally, people need to recognize that exploiting civilian casualties, and often causing civilian casualties, are a fundamental part of the Taliban strategy," he added.
Secretary Gates said that is something the coalition constantly must work against.
"It doesn't matter that it's part of the Taliban strategy. It's what matters in the eyes of the Afghan people, and so it's so important for us to be seen as their partner and their ally, not as somebody who has come to do them harm," he said.
US working to reduce civilian casualties
Working to minimize civilian casualties has been a major initiative for Secretary Gates. He established a policy last year under which the U.S. forces are even more careful about their targeting, and pay reparations to families even if the cause of casualties is not clear. On Thursday, he reported that Afghan civilian casualties have fallen 40 percent since January, while casualties among coalition and Afghan troops have risen 75 percent. Military officers say U.S. casualties will likely go up as more forces arrive in the coming months, particularly in Southern Afghanistan where the Taliban is strong.
Gates spoke after a day of visits to U.S. bases in the south. He thanked the troops for their efforts, and said more help is on the way.