Two Afghan children, aged seven and eight, were shot dead by Australian troops in Oruzgan province on 28 February, while “tending cattle”. “The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one,” according to provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, “They saw two young children who were apparently listening to a radio and they shot them – it is not yet clear why”.
The thousands of civilian deaths in the long-running campaign against the Taliban and insurgents have caused tension before with the Afghan people and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. Karzai has for a decade railed against, and implored foreign forces to stop, an increasing civilian death toll- just recently Karzai banned Afghan troops from requesting foreign air strikes due to the death of 10 civilians from a NATO air strike.
Protests against the deaths of civilians have occurred regularly in Afghanistan as well as abroad.
In response to the incident Australian Chief of Defence Force General David Hurley expressed deep regret and his condolences but said it was too early to determine exactly who was responsible or how the deaths occurred.
The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, General Joseph Dunford said “the boys were killed when Coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces”.
The reticence of Australian military personnel, who say that no more details will be released while the deaths are still under investigation, is not unexpected. Nor is that of Australia’s politicians, with Prime Minister Julia Gillard refusing to comment on any details. It’s become expected of them to say nothing beyond expressing their condolences and regret. Federal Opposition Leader Tony Abbott had this to say though: “The horrible feature of war, one of the reasons why we should never lightly wage war, is that almost inevitably awful mistakes like this happen”.
After all, it is the generously paid job of a brave Australian soldier to shoot brown people in far away lands under international guidance, under the pretense that our troops are making the world a safer place by being in these countries. A safer place for everyone except those countries’ citizens, it would seem.
Nobody wants to accept responsibility for killing innocent kids, and the fact that nobody involved in the military operations or political decisions that sends these soldiers to kill wants to take responsibility or talk openly about it suggests that even they understand the moral weight and repugnance of civilian deaths, that no amount of crocodile tears will wash away.
Or maybe it’s just the inescapable PR problem created when you spend as much time blowing up kids as you do bad guys.