Shortly after noon Aug. 22, Iranian television reported, "A U.S. airstrike south of Herat in western Afghanistan has killed more than 50 innocent civilians, including women and children." To counter these reports, U.S. aircraft transported Afghan and foreign reporters to the special operations base so that they could see the confiscated weapons and other evidence for themselves. It didn't help.
That evening, as we filed our full story with videotape of the raid and an interview with a U.S. special forces officer, unnamed "sources" at the Ministry of the Interior in Kabul were telling reporters that 76 civilians had been killed. Little or no attention was paid to the Taliban arms or equipment that had been destroyed at the objective or to the care provided to the wounded woman and her child.
By the morning of Aug. 23, little more than 24 hours after the operation, the international press wires and mainstream news outlets were carrying photos of damaged buildings, and an Afghan human rights organization was charging that 88 civilians -- among them 20 women and 50 children -- had been killed by U.S. forces. Later in the day, President Hamid Karzai first called for an investigation -- and then denounced the operation. Though only about 15 new graves were evident in nearby cemeteries -- and no local civilians had sought medical treatment for wounds -- the number of noncombatant casualties allegedly inflicted in the raid continued to rise.
On Aug. 24, with several investigations under way but not yet complete, the commando battalion commander was "suspended." That evening, in a report on Fox News, I noted that neither cameraman Chris Jackson nor I had seen any noncombatants killed and that "the Taliban and their supporters are running a very effective propaganda campaign to discredit coalition efforts. Exaggerated claims of damage often result in demands for more money in compensation."
The next day, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan concluded that 90 civilians had been killed during the raid at Aziz Abad. Then, as we were departing for Herat, we were informed that the government in Kabul was offering $200,000 to settle the claims and was planning new restrictions on Special Operations Command missions.
Let's hope that won't be the end of this story. U.S. commanders here are appealing to the Karzai government to look at the evidence -- including our videotape -- and to continue to support intelligence-driven operations against the Taliban. Brig. Gen. Khair Mohammad, chief of staff of the 207th Corps, Western Military Region, told me: "We need to have America's help to win this fight. Your enemy is our enemy."
He's right. The sooner officials in Kabul realize it the sooner this war will be won.
Oliver North is a nationally syndicated columnist, the host of War Stories on the Fox News Channel, the author of the new novel Heroes Proved and the co-founder of Freedom Alliance, an organization that provides college scholarships to the children of U.S. military personnel killed or permanently disabled in the line of duty. Join Oliver North in Israel by going to www.olivernorthisrael.com.
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