In a joint press conference with Hamid Karzai at the White House Wednesday, President Obama spoke rather directly about an issue that is central to his Afghan strategy.
When there is a civilian casualty, that is not just a political problem for me. I am ultimately accountable, just as General McChrystal is accountable, for somebody who’s not on the battlefield who got killed. And that is something that I have to carry with me and that anybody who’s involved in a military operation has to carry with them. And so we do not take that lightly. We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties not because it’s a problem for President Karzai. We have an interest in reducing civilian casualties because I don’t want civilians killed. And we are going to do everything we can to prevent that.
The rest of his statement after the jump.
Now, 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. They — they will take a chance often in a field of battle where they’re 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’s 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 just take these locations out, because part of what the American military stands for is that we distinguish between civilians and combatants, something, by the way, that our enemies do not do.
And that puts us more at risk, and it makes it more difficult. But that’s a burden that we’re willing to bear.
But I want everybody to be clear, especially to Afghan people: I take no pleasure in hearing a report that a civilian has been killed. That’s not why I ran for president. That’s not why I’m commander in chief. That’s not why our young men and women sign up. That’s not why they sacrifice in the ways that President Karzai saw they sacrifice when they’re in Walter Reed.
And we are going to work together as — you know, as assiduously as we can to make sure that those civilian casualties are reduced, even as we try to accomplish a mission, and even as we are reminding ourselves constantly that the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan are as a consequence of terrorist acts by the Taliban.