Gates Discusses Air Strikes during Bagram Stop

Defense Secretary Robert Gates met with airmen at Bagram AB, Afghanistan, on Wednesday to get first-hand look at the A-10 and F-15E units that provide critical close air support to NATO ground forces in the country. Gates’ visit came against the backdrop of coalition air strikes coming under increased scrutiny after a disputed mission on Aug. 22 that purportedly went awry, killing many civilians. The US has refuted these allegations to date and maintains that the air strike took out legitimate Taliban insurgents—but did unfortunately involve a number of civilian fatalities, but not scores as alleged. The incident remains under investigation. Gates said avoiding civilian casualties is a high priority. “We’re very concerned about this,” he said. “We work at that hard, work at it harder, and then take another look to see what more we can do to limit innocent people who are killed when we go after our enemies.” Gates met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai earlier that day. He said Karzai conveyed to him that “the Afghan people still very much believe we are here to help them and overcome their enemies.” Gates said that “on those rare occasions” when civilians are hit by mistake, the US will “apologize quickly, compensate the victims quickly, and then carry out the investigation.” Coalition forces are meticulous in planning and executing air strikes to avoid civilians. During Gates’ visit, Brig. Gen. James Holmes, commander of Bagram’s 455th Air Expeditionary Wing, showed streaming imagery of an F-15E air strike against insurgents that was called off due to concerns over potentially hitting innocents in the area. The attack was later carried out when there was no such danger. (AFPS report by Jim Garamone)