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Gen. McChrystal: We’ve Shot ‘An Amazing Number Of People’ Who Were Not Threats

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In a stark assessment of shootings of locals by US troops at checkpoints in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal said in little-noticed comments last month that during his time as commander there, “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

The comments came during a virtual town hall with troops in Afghanistan after one asked McChrystal to comment on the “escalation of force” problem. The general responded that, in the nine months he had been in charge, none of the cases in which “we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it.”

In many cases, he added, families were in the vehicles that were fired on.Every two weeks, McChrystal participates in a virtual town hall in which soldiers in Afghanistan submit questions by chat that he answers over streaming audio.

TPMmuckraker has obtained a fuller transcript of the comments, which were first reported by the New York Times last week. The Times‘ Richard Oppel noted that since last summer U.S. and NATO troops killed 30 and wounded 80 Afghans in convoy and checkpoint shootings.

In response to a question about reducing such incidents, McChrystal told troops listening to the town hall:

“We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it.”

He continued: “That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

Tadd Sholtis, a spokesman for McChrystal said in an email to TPMmuckraker that “the general was urging his forces to exercise courageous restraint (by suggesting that it is unlikely that erratic behavior at a checkpoint constitutes a threat) while also expressing sympathy for the confusing and threatening situations in which both soldiers and Afghans find themselves.”

Sholtis added that McChrystal “works harder at reducing civilian casualties than any wartime commander in a generation.”

Here is the full exchange, from the transcript provided by Sholtis:

Q: “On Escalation of force, have you considered engaging the local
community on the issue? We could explain at the brigade/battalion level
what behavior we find threatening, and how we are trained to react when
we feel threatened. We could negotiate with the community leaders over
mutually agreeable actions and reactions that are better understood by
both and gives part ownership of the issue to the community and empowers
them in line with our approach to reintegration.”

GEN McChrystal: “That’s a great point. I don’t know if we have, but we certainly ought to be doing that. We have so many escalation of force issues, and someone gets hurt in the process, and we say, ‘They didn’t respond like they were supposed to.’ Well, they may not have known how they were supposed to respond, so as they approached an area or checkpoint or whatever, they may have taken actions that seemed appropriate to them, and when a warning shot was fired they may have panicked. I think this is a great thing to do, to engage people and tell them the kind of behavior on their part that would lower the chance that they would run into problems.

“I do want to say something that everyone understands. We really ask a lot of our young service people out on the checkpoints because there’s danger, they’re asked to make very rapid decisions in often very unclear situations. However, to my knowledge, in the nine-plus months I’ve been here, not a single case where we have engaged in an escalation of force incident and hurt someone has it turned out that the vehicle had a suicide bomb or weapons in it and, in many cases, had families in it. That doesn’t mean I’m criticizing the people who are executing. I’m just giving you perspective. We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

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