WASHINGTON– Though U.S. Central Command investigators found a May 4 air strike that caused civilian casualties in Afghanistan’s Farah province was within the rules of armed conflict, they recommended that coalition forces alter tactics, techniques and procedures to safeguard innocent civilians. In their report, released yesterday, investigators said the bombing outside the village of Gerani killed 78 Taliban fighters and at least 26 Afghan civilians. “The investigation does not discount the possibility that more than 26 civilians were killed in this engagement,” the report says.

The report does not recommend curtailing close-air support, “especially in direct and indirect fire situations that imperil friendly forces.” Still, absent a direct threat, the report does recommend tactical approaches that minimize the chances of civilian deaths, noting that the Afghan government and coalition mission in the country is to protect the people.

The incident unrolled after Afghan forces entered the region in pursuit of Taliban fighters. The security forces came under attack and called for U.S. back-up. A Marine quick-reaction force reinforced the Afghans, and close-air support assets arrived overhead. The report said that FA-18F assault aircraft did not inflict casualties, but that bombs dropped by a B-1 bomber did.

The action lasted for hours, and ground forces were under constant direct fire, according to the report.

The report recommends a reassessment of operational objectives and tactical procedures when using force. “This guidance must apply to planned operations and troops in contact/self-defense operations and must be stand-alone documents,” the report says. Once the guidance is published, all troops – including those not based in Afghanistan – must undergo re-training.

The report calls for better strategic communications between coalition and Afghan officials. It also calls for better communications with nongovernmental organizations such as the United Nations Assistance Mission to Afghanistan, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission.

The report recommends an on-call investigative team led by a general officer that can be at the site of an incident within two hours.

Finally, the report calls for a reassessment of close-air support aircraft.

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