| Donald Rumsfeld
Washington, Dec. 10 (Reuters): The Pentagon yesterday defended US military attempts to kill insurgent leaders in Afghanistan and Iraq following a botched American air strike that killed nine children in an Afghan village.
Defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, pressed during a Pentagon briefing on why the military continued to attempt “targeted killings” despite tragic errors, countered that the US preferred to capture those it was hunting.
“We would be happy to capture them. We would be happy to have them surrender. And if they don’t, we would be happy to kill them. And that’s what’s going on,” Rumsfeld said.
“The implication, or the connotation, of ‘targeted killing,’ I think, is unfortunate because it suggests an appetite to do that, which is not the case,” Rumsfeld added.
But he said it was “perfectly logical” to hunt down and try to capture or kill fugitives in Iraq who are killing Iraqi civilians and allied military forces.
The deaths of the children will likely add to the problems the United States has faced winning hearts and minds in the troubled south of Afghanistan, where militants are most active, ahead of elections due next year.
US air force Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the briefing that it was not clear whether Saturday’s air strike that killed the children in Afghanistan had also killed the target, Mullah Wazir.
“It's unclear whether or not he was the one killed in the strike,” Myers said. “He was the fella we were after. He was connected to the recent killings of two ring road contractors, so we were after him. We think he is also connected to other known terrorists operating in Afghanistan.”
Myers said US army Brig. Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of Joint Task Force 180 in Afghanistan, had visited the village of Makur, which a US A-10 aircraft attacked with gunfire and killed the children while they played.
“He has been to the village ... We are talking to the village leaders. We have provided various things to the villagers to try and help with their grief. Nothing can do that, of course, when you lose nine children.”
In November, six civilians were killed in an air strike in the southern province of Paktia, and nearly three weeks before that eight members of the same family, including children, died in a similar attack in the province of Nuristan.
In July last year, the Afghan government said 48 people had been killed and 117 hurt in Uruzgan province when a US AC-130 gunship attacked a wedding party. Myers conceded that there were risks when the military went after any specific target and the results were sometimes imperfect. But he said careful analysis was conducted before attacks were launched against fugitives or other targets.