Obama: I Am Accountable for Afghan Civilian Casualties


At a joint press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai following a meeting between the two leaders in Washington, President Obama made pointed comments about the problem of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, saying that he takes "no pleasure" in reports of civilian deaths and stating that American soldiers put themselves at risk in order to try to avoid them.

"When there is a civilian casualty, that is not just a political problem for me," said Mr. Obama. "I am ultimately accountable, just as General [Stanley] McChrystal is accountable, for somebody who is not on the battlefield who got killed."

"And that is something that I have to carry with me, and that anybody who is involved in a military operation has to carry with them. And so we do not take that lightly," he continued.

The president went on to say that the U.S. military's efforts to avoid civilian casualties makes the fight more difficult.

"War is tough and difficult and mistakes are going to be made, and our troops put themselves at risk oftentimes in order to reduce civilian casualties," he said. "They will take a chance, often, in the field of battle where they are trying to deal with uncertain information and they're not sure whether that's an attack coming or not, or which house these shots are being fired from, and because of General McChrystal direction, oftentimes they're holding fire, they're hesitating, they're being cautious about how they operate even though it would be safer for them to go ahead and take these locations out."

"We distinguish between civilians and combatants - something by the way that our enemies do not do - and that puts us more at risk," said Mr. Obama. "And it makes it more difficult. But that's a burden that we're willing to bear."

He said he wanted to make clear to everyone, particularly the Afghan people, that "I take no pleasure in hearing a report that a civilian has been killed. That's not why I ran for president."

The president added that the "overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are as a consequence of terrorist acts by the Taliban," not the actions of U.S. forces. 

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