More Regrettable Loss of Innocent Life

Once again, scores of civilians are dead because of a U.S. air strike:

A U.S. coalition force air strike on Sunday killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, in the eastern province of Nangarhar, an Afghan official said on Friday.

The issue of civilian casualties is an emotive one in Afghanistan, feeding a common perception international forces do not take enough care when launching air strikes, and undermining support for their continued presence in the country.

Residents and officials had earlier told reporters that 23 people were killed, when aircraft bombed a convoy bringing a bride to her new husband’s village in Nangarhar.

The U.S. military released a statement after the incident saying there were no civilians in the area and that they had been targeting a large group of militants.

“I reject the coalition statement saying that all those killed were militants,” Burhanullah Shinwari, deputy speaker of the upper house, who is heading an investigation into Sunday’s incident told Reuters on Friday. “There aren’t any Taliban or Al Qaeda even several kilometers near to where the air strike took place. Fourty-seven people were killed; 39 of them were women and children,” he said shortly after attending prayer ceremonies for the victims in the provincial capital Jalalabad.

An investigation has also been launched into another U.S. air strike carried out two days before Sunday’s incident in which local officials say 15 civilians were killed. The U.S. military is conducting its own investigation into Sunday’s incident.

“We are still investigating it and we haven’t completed our investigation so I can’t speak about specifics at this time,” a spokesman for the U.S. military said on Friday.

“All I can say is that any loss of innocent life is tragic. I can assure you that civilians are never targeted in operations and that our forces go to great lengths in avoiding civilian casualties,” he said.

Of course, that’s true — but the unspoken remainder of that sentence is, “… within the parameters of the proportionality equation.”

Two of the most dramatic aspects of targeting are strikes on military objectives and any resulting collateral damage or incidental civilian casualties caused. … These phenomenon also are two of the more basic targeting components, that of military objective and that of the incidental civilian losses. The later component, being incidental civilian loss, injury and damage, also known as collateral damage, is one side of the proportionality “equation”.

Expected incidental civilian losses (which term will be used interchangeably with collateral
damage) are balanced against the anticipated military value of the strike. This balancing (i.e. proportionality) in turn, is one of the major factors in targeting.

It’s a given that civilians will die in air strikes. The only question is, What is the value of those innocent human lives in relation to the military objective? Put another way, you could ask, How many civilians can you kill before the value of their lives exceeds the value of the military objective? So they don’t so much “go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties” (because it’s impossible to avoid civilian casualties when you’re dropping bombs from ten or twenty thousand feet up in the air) as they calculate how many civilians are likely to die in the air strike, and weigh that number against what they think is the military benefit of dropping the bombs.

5 Responses to “More Regrettable Loss of Innocent Life”

  1. gcotharn says:

    The odds that was a wedding party of women and children are about 10%, and that may be a wildly high estimate of the odds.

    It could be true. Abu Ghraib was true. It was true an Iraqi boy was thrown off a bridge in 2003, to his death, by two U.S. soldiers. However, the vast, vast majority of such claims, when fully investigated, turn out to be false claims. That is the way to bet in this case.

    The enemy is taught to lie to media as a tactic, and to claim prisoner abuse and civilian massacre as a tactic. Reuters has been notorious about reporting untrue allegations by both anonymous sources, sources who were using an alias and a false background story, and sources whom -upon investigation – turned out to be openly aligned with the enemy.


    As with the claim a soldier was denied promotion b/c he is an atheist: the story is not the claim, as the claim is most likely false. The story occurs when the investigation is complete, or when the trial verdict comes in. My take:

    Atheist claiming he was denied promotion: 25% chance he is telling the truth.

    Reuters story (LOL) about alleged civilian casualties: 10% (or even way less) chance it is truth.


  2. Kathy says:


    Please don’t take this the wrong way, but you are an idiot.

  3. gcotharn says:

    heh. right back atcha.

  4. gcotharn says:

    Just out of curiosity, and reciprocal fairness: what do you think are the chances the atheist is telling the truth? 70%? 90%? What do you think are the chances the “Iraqi government official” is telling the truth about the victims being overwhelmingly women and children in a wedding party? 90%?

  5. Mike says:

    Our foreign policy is all messed up, so we really instigated this in the first place. If we had kept out of the Middle East as a police force, 911 never would have happened. But we’re there, and it amazes me how we keep trying to fight a politically correct and surgically precise war. Since we’re there, let’s stop pretending that we’re not commiting atrocities by bombing innocent people.

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