By Ray Fleming

IF US General McChrystal's new strategy for bringing the Afghanistan mission to a successful conclusion depends on guaranteeing the safety of every civilian in combat areas, it is doomed to failure. On Monday a NATO airstrike killed 27 people, including women and children, who were travelling in a civilian convoy, bringing to 60 the civilian death toll in one week. For the second time in two weeks General McChrystal hastened to apologise: “I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission.” Those words are unlikely to reassure the Afghans to whom they are directed nor will they do much for the morale of the NATO troops who may find themselves responsible for “inadvertent” killing. The situation is not helped by President Karsai who last Saturday called on the Americans and their allies to eliminate civilian casualties: “We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties,“ he said, “and our efforts and our criticism will continue until we reach that goal.” Statements of that kind may be necessary for local political consumption but they are totally unrealistic. For so long as the Taliban is a target weapons will have to be employed against them and mistakes will be made with tragic consequences. War, however carefully controlled, is like that and no amount of talking will make it any different.