U.S. News

No charges for Marines in Afghan civilian deaths

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. Marines who killed Afghan civilians while responding to an ambush in March 2007 acted appropriately and in accordance with military rules, a senior Marine Corps commander said on Friday.

Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland, commander of Marine Corps forces in the Middle East, decided not to bring criminal charges against officers who led the special operations unit involved in the incident.

“The ... commander determined that their reaction to the ambush, to the vehicle-borne improvised explosive device attack, was within the current rules of engagement and in accordance with the laws of armed conflict and was proportionate and appropriate at the time,” said Maj. Cliff Gilmore, spokesman for Marine Corps special operations.

On March 4, 2007, Taliban fighters ambushed a Marine convoy in eastern Afghanistan’s Nangahar province. The Marines returned fire, killing as many as 19 civilians and wounding at least 24, the military has said.

Scores of civilians have been killed in raids by U.S.-led troops, according to Afghan officials. The deaths in 2007 sparked days of protests against the United States and Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Even before the Marine Corps opened its investigation into the March incident, an Army colonel commanding forces in the area acknowledged the civilian killings and apologized for the “terrible mistake.”

Marine spokesmen on Friday would not comment on the question of Marines’ responsibility for the civilian deaths. They also would not say whether Helland made a determination on the issue.

Three officers will face administrative action. If some misconduct is determined in those proceedings, the officers face punishments ranging from a fine to removal from the military.

Reporting by Kristin Roberts, Editing by Bill Trott