David Petraeus Offers an Apology for Deaths of Nine Afghans

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Photo: Sean Gallup/Getty Images

A couple of weeks ago, the commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, claimed pro-Taliban Afghan parents were burning their sons and daughters to death in order to make the U.S. look bad. But today, Petraeus owned up to making a mistake that took the lives of nine children. Petraeus admitted that the nine children, ages 9 to 15, were killed after NATO helicopter gunners mistook them for insurgents. A tenth boy survived.

“We were almost done collecting the wood when suddenly we saw the helicopters come,” said Hemad, the sole survivor. “There were two of them ...They fired a rocket which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side.” Hemad survived by hiding under a tree, but watched his friends die.

Petraeus responded to the incident with uncharacteristic contrition. His last public apology was in 2009 to the Air Force for comments made at a Marine Corps dinner. “We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” he said. “These deaths should have never happened.” He also pledged to take appropriate disciplinary action if necessary. Afghan president Hamid Karzai followed suit, condemning the NATO action "in the strongest terms possible" and calling it a "ruthless" attack.

Of course, none of this is helping the U.S. win the "hearts and minds" war: More than 200 people gathered in the Afghan town of Nanglam on Wednesday, shouting “Death, death to America!” and “Death to Obama and his colleagues and associates!”

Petraeus Apologizes for Deaths of 9 Afghan Boys [NYT]