WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 – The investigation into a May 4 close-air support incident in Afghanistan’s Farah province that caused civilian casualties has pointed to some deviations from established tactics, techniques and procedures, but those involved showed extraordinary care in the incident, the Pentagon’s press secretary said Monday.

Geoff Morrell said Army Brig. Gen. Raymond Thomas conducted the review and briefed Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates on the recommendations of his report.

Thomas conducted the investigation on orders from U.S. Central Command chief Army Gen. David H. Petraeus. The full report will be released later this week.

“It appeared to me … that the personnel involved took extraordinary care in tracking the militants that they had come under attack from,” said Morrell, who attended Thomas’s briefing.

An Afghan unit had come in contact with Taliban militants and asked for back-up from U.S. Marines. “That unit came in, and over the next several hours beat back this attack, killing several dozen Taliban in the process, and required some close air support to ultimately prevail,” Morrell said.

The investigation found some problems with the way in which close-air support was used. A B-1 bomber, because of the way the aircraft makes its approach, had to break away from positive identification of its targets, Morrell said.

“There’s no way to determine whether or not that had anything to do with the fact that civilian casualties did incur in this incident, but they did note that as one of the problems associated with how this all took place,” the press secretary said.

Between 20 and 30 Afghan civilians died in the incident, U.S. officials have said. “I’m going to let [Central Command] speak to the final numbers,” Morrell said. “But they were greatly outnumbered by the Taliban killed in this incident.”

Morrell called the Thomas report “exhaustive” and said that the Americans on the ground went to great lengths to limit civilian casualties.

American forces already have tightened rules for close-air support, Morrell said, and there will be a further review of procedures. Since the beginning of the year, civilian casualties in Afghanistan are down 40 percent, he noted. Meanwhile, he added, “American casualties and that of our coalition partners and Afghan security forces have shot up 75 percent.”

Morrell said coalition officials want to reduce civilian casualties to zero, but that it’s impossible to do so. “I would be foolish to stand up here and say that we’ll ultimately eliminate civilian casualties, but we are going to make every effort we can to reduce them,” he said.

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WASHINGTON, June 9, 2009 – The investigation into a May 4 close-air support incident…