U.S. Tries to Right Wrong After Raid Kills Afghans A special U.S. military team met with Afghan tribal elders in Khost province in an attempt to repair relations after a March raid that killed six people. The military believes such meetings help keep the Taliban from regaining ground in Afghanistan.
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U.S. Tries to Right Wrong After Raid Kills Afghans

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U.S. Tries to Right Wrong After Raid Kills Afghans

U.S. Tries to Right Wrong After Raid Kills Afghans

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President Bush is in Romania at the NATO summit. Today, he praised new commitments by some NATO countries to send more troops to Afghanistan. And he called on other countries to pitch in to help fight the Taliban. In a speech, the president said it's in Europe's interest to keep Afghanistan from becoming a terrorist haven.

President GEORGE W. BUSH: If we were to let up the pressure, the extremists would reestablish safe havens across the country and use them to terrorize the people of Afghanistan and threaten our own.

NORRIS: In Afghanistan itself, civilian deaths from NATO raids and air strikes have badly damaged relations with the Afghan people. So, the U.S. is trying to make amends. American military teams are often sent to meet with affected villagers and make condolence payments.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson recently accompanied one team in eastern Khost province.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: One by one, the elders from Nadar Shahkot file into the governor's office here in Khost province. They walked past the U.S. military team whose members rise up from their chairs. It's a noisy procession, but the Americans and Afghans don't speak to each other, at least not yet.

Major DAVID BAUMGARDNER (U.S. Army): The best thing we can do is let people like the governor lead us through this.

NELSON: That's Army Major David Baumgardner. He and the other Americans here look a bit uncomfortable. What they do next will determine whether residents of this village will ever let them return to finish building a school. They are here to undo the damage caused by an American unit that swooped into Nadar Shahkot in a late-night raid in March. They were members of a special operations team based elsewhere in the country. When the raid ended, six people were dead including a mother and two children. Two other villagers were arrested.

The governor is not happy about the raid, usually the Americans consult him before going in. But he's determined to help the military right these wrong, unless the insurgents gain from the tragedy. After the villagers are seated, he nods in the team's direction.

Navy Commander Erika Sauer, who heads the U.S. provincial reconstruction team that is here to mend relations, speaks first.

Commander ERIKA SAUER (U.S. Navy) This is a very great loss, but we are here to try and help you get through this situation.

NELSON: Kael Weston, the U.S. State Department representative is more direct.

Mr. KAEL WESTON (U.S. State Department Representative to Anbar Province): I think this is a tragedy for you, and I know that. And our goal today is not to try and explain away what happened, but to try, and as Commander Sauer said, help you through your loss, but to also try and make sure it doesn't happen again.

Mr. AMIR MOHAMMED (Tribal Leader, Nadar Shahkot. Khost Province): (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: And so begins a tough 40-minute meeting. A meeting that, under international law, doesn't have to take place nor do American payments need to be made to relatives of the dead, which in this case amounts to $2,000 for each of the six people killed. But the Americans believe such meetings and payment helped keep Afghanistan from ending up back in the hands of the Taliban.

So does Sarah Holewinski, the executive director of the Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict, a nongovernmental organization in Washington, D.C.

Ms. SARAH HOLEWINSKI (Executive Director, Campaign for Innocent Victims in Conflict): So if you don't offer some sort of recognition of suffering and some sort of assistance, whether it's monetary or in-kind assistance for civilian harm, you are going to see a tremendous amount of anger.

NELSON: Back in Khost, the meeting is not going so well.

Mr. MOHAMMED: (Speaking in foreign language)

NELSON: Tribal leader Amir Mohammed demands the soldiers who conducted the raid be brought to justice, so should the informant who told the Americans his village harbored terrorists. He demands that two villagers who were arrested in the raid be released. He says, otherwise, the apology the Americans are offering is meaningless.

The Americans agreed to relay the message, then they hand over the money. Three stacks of crisp, orange Afghani bills are removed from a gray metal box and placed on a conference table in front of the survivors.

The youngest, Ghader Gol, with adolescent fuzz on his chin, looks at the money. He then glares at the Americans. He's one of the children who are supposed to attend the school they are building in his village. Though he says little during the meeting, he has lost more than any of the Afghans here — his father, his mother, his 10-year-old brother.

Mr. GHADER GOL (Resident, Nadar Shahkot, Khost Province): (Through translator) That the Americans build schools and roads does mean something, but this shouldn't have happened.

NELSON: He and his uncles want to know why they weren't told the coalition believed insurgents were in their midst. They say there weren't any, but if there were, they would have turned them over. But it's not that simple.

Colonel Martin Schweitzer, who heads the U.S. forces here, says most of the raids are conducted with Afghan cooperation. But sometimes coalition forces need to act independently. He says in this case, some of the dead, as well as the two arrested men, were insurgents linked to hundreds of Afghan deaths.

Colonel MARTIN SCHWEITZER (Commander Head, 4th Brigade Combat Team): And so we go in there to try to constantly refine the procedures and the techniques we're using to reduce the chances that any casualty - let alone civilian casualties - are going to be incurred.

NELSON: Ghader Gol says he doesn't care, what he does care about is that the Americans have left him an orphan with eight younger brothers and sisters to raise.

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