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Afghan Civilian Casualty Info Hard to Get, Says Rumsfeld

By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Dec. 4, 2001 – Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld strongly disagreed with a press report that alleges DoD avoids discussing the numbers of Afghan civilian casualties caused by the war against terrorism there.

"The short answer is that is simply not so," Rumsfeld told reporters today at a Pentagon news conference, referring to a press report he said was headlined "Pentagon Avoids Subject of Civilian Deaths."

Due to "the disorder that reigns in Afghanistan," Rumsfeld said, "it is next to impossible to get factual information about civilian casualties."

One of war's unpleasant realities is that innocent bystanders are sometimes caught in the crossfire, Rumsfeld said, adding that DoD officials are often asked to answer Taliban accusations about civilian casualties.

Pointing to the difficulty of obtaining accurate estimates of Afghan civilian casualties, Rumsfeld noted that the Taliban "have lied repeatedly and they intentionally mislead the press for their own purposes." U.S. officials, he added, generally do not have access to sites of alleged civilian casualties on the ground.

In instances where a U.S. official does have access to a site, Rumsfeld noted, "It is often impossible to know how many people were killed, how they died, and by whose hand."

Rumsfeld pointed to the difficulty of obtaining accurate casualty figures for the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the New York World Trade Center. Those figures, he said, have changed as reported by the press from about 10,000 deaths at the time of the attacks, to some 3,600 killed today.

"Now, today, almost three months later, we still do not know with certainty the number of people who died at the World Trade Center Towers," he noted.

Accordingly, "one ought to be sensitive to how difficult it is to know with certainty, in real time, what may have happened in any given situation in Afghanistan, where we lack access and we're dealing with world-class liars," Rumsfeld said.

He said Defense Department officials try to tell reporters "what we do know that is accurate." Likewise, he said, "We try to say what we don't know, and we've been doing that consistently."

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Related Sites:
DoD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Myers, Dec. 4, 2001
DoD News Briefing Slides, Dec. 4, 2001

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