We’ve gotten four or five e-mails about this since Glenn posted on it last night and Captain Ed went nuclear on it this morning. I’m loath to defend his holiness but I think this is less a case of Obama meaning to cast unfair aspersions on the troops in Afghanistan than being too flip in describing a serious recurring problem. The fact is, there have been a number of high profile airstrikes lately that ended up killing — unintentionally, of course — large numbers of Afghan civilians. That’s not according to the lying, lying Taliban, either. Here’s a report from May quoting the governor of Helmand province claiming that 21 civilians died in a raid on jihadis; here’s another from June reporting 25 dead sourced to a local police chief; and here’s one just a few days later citing estimates from Afghan officials of 60 dead in the latest strikes. It’s a longstanding issue, sufficiently so as to have drawn a promise from NATO at the start of the year to do more to avoid collateral damage, but this fiasco in March brought the problem to a head.
The Taliban’s obviously using the locals as human shields, as brave mujahideen are wont to do, but reminding Afghans of that fact isn’t going to do much to reduce the heat Karzai’s feeling from the public over it. In fact, if the Guardian’s numbers are right, as of late June there had been slightly more Afghans killed this year by coalition action than by the Taliban. Obama’s point, as I take it, is that the more troops we have on the ground, the less we need to rely on air power, and the more precise our attacks on the enemy will be. The jerky part was adding the word “just,” which I’m guessing is his nod at how Afghans may perceive U.S. operations sometimes.
Update: Wow. Their point is well taken — I made it myself, after all — but let me know when they do any “fact checking” of Democratic attacks on Republicans. That’s not an article, it’s a campaign press release.