KABUL, Afghanistan — Defense Secretary Robert Gates offered the people of Afghanistan his "personal regrets" Wednesday for U.S. airstrikes that have killed civilians and said he would try to improve the accuracy of air warfare, the imperfect fallback for U.S. commanders who say they don't have enough ground forces for the deepening Afghanistan war.
"As I told them, I offer all Afghans my sincere condolences and personal regrets for the recent loss of innocent life as a result of coalition airstrikes," Gates said after meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai. "While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder."
Gates' unusual apology followed a frank assessment from the top military commander in Afghanistan: There aren't enough U.S. ground forces in Afghanistan, so the military is relying more heavily on air power, running a greater risk of civilian deaths.
Gates agreed to an Afghan proposal to establish a permanent U.S.-Afghan group to investigate all incidents involving civilian casualties. "I think the key for us is, in those rare occasions when we do make a mistake, when there is an error, to apologize quickly, to compensate the victims quickly and then carry out the investigation," he said.
Missile strike kills 6
A U.S. missile strike Wednesday killed at least six people in Pakistan. Hours earlier U.S. Adm. Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, "reiterated the U.S. commitment to respect Pakistan's sovereignty and to develop further U.S.-Pakistani cooperation," according to a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Islamabad. Mullen was making a surprise visit to Pakistan, where he met with his Pakistani counterpart, Gen. Ashfaq Kayani, and Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani. A separate statement from the Pentagon made no mention of respecting Pakistani sovereignty.