US officials were already skeptical of claims that a military operation last week killed 65 Afghan civilians, but now Gen. David Petraeus has apparently taken things a step further: During a Sunday meeting with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Petraeus reportedly suggested Afghans burned their own children in an effort to exaggerate the casualty claims. Two participants at the meeting tell the Washington Post that Karzai and others at the meeting were shocked and offended at the remarks. Seven civilians, including five children, were found with minor injuries on an initial fact-finding mission arranged by the provincial governor.
US military officials say there is no evidence of civilian deaths and that the fight took place far from civilian structures. A top military spokesperson adds that in intercepted conversations, insurgents were heard discussing a plan of reporting civilian deaths so coalition helicopters would stop firing. He confirms that children were found with burned hands and feet, but notes that the military has seen reports of Afghan children disciplined in that way. Petraeus apparently made similar remarks during the meeting with Karzai, dismissing claims that civilians were killed and suggesting residents made up stories in an effort to force the US to end the operation.