Published February 22, 2011
A U.S. military spokesman is rejecting reported characterizations of remarks by Gen. David Petreaus in a national security meeting in which he was said to have accused Afghans of burning their own children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties following a U.S. operation against insurgents.
Two participants in the meeting Sunday of U.S. and Afghan officials reportedly told The Washington Post that Petraeus' comments shocked and insulted Afghans, including aides to President Hamid Karzai.
"I was dizzy. My head was spinning," one participant told the newspaper about the reaction to Petraeus' remarks. "This was shocking. Would any father do this to his children? This is really absurd."
The sources for the story did not provide exact language of the meeting in the presidential palace, which centered on discussion of a joint investigation into a multi-day operation last week in the mountains of Ghaziabad, in which Apache helicopters fired on insurgents.
The governor of the town of Konar told military officials that villagers said about 50 died in the operation, but Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, the top U.S. military spokesman in Kabul, told the Post that he reviewed the footage and "found no evidence women and children were among the fighters."
Smith added that U.S. military officials had received reports of "children being disciplined by having their hands and feet dipped into boiling water. No one is claiming this is the case in this instance, but it may well be."
Smith told Fox News the newspaper incorrectly characterized Petraeus' comments as suggesting that Afghans were burning their children to create the appearance they were injured by NATO forces.
"I believe my exact statement (to the reporter) was that his understanding of what was said at the meeting was 'overstated,' and like with you, I declined to comment further," he said.
During Saturday's investigation into civilian casualties, a three-person team traveled to the village of Helgal and returned with seven injured people, an adult woman and a man and five children under age 16. Smith told the Post that they had burns and shrapnel wounds, none of them life-threatening.
"As for the actual event in Kunar, you can see I was quite liberal in explaining to the Post what we know thus far," Smith told Fox News. "At present, we have no direct evidence that any civilians were killed. As discussed, we are aware of seven Afghans who were injured -- still not certain where or how.
"The joint assessment is underway and it will be a few days before that is wrapped up. We'll be sure to provide an update when they are finished with their work and we've discussed the matter with President Karzai and his team," he said.