On Wednesday, John McCain's rapid response spokesman let fly with a "reaction" to a year-old incident.
"One year ago today, Barack Obama accused our men and women in Afghanistan of 'just air-raiding villages and killing civilians' in this country's fight against radical Islamic extremism," Tucker Bounds wrote in an email to reporters. "Whether those words were a product of inexperience or just bad judgment, they were not the kind of words we expect from any candidate for our nation's highest office."
Except Obama's comments from last August weren't directed at troops in the field, but rather at the shortage of troops available for combat in Afghanistan. At the New Hampshire event in question, the not-yet frontrunner said: "Now you have narco drug lords who are helping to finance the Taliban, so we've got to get the job done there [in Afghanistan], and that requires us to have enough troops that we are not just air raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there."
Presumably, Obama wasn't arguing for more troops to be added to Afghanistan so that more air raids targeting civilians could commence, and was instead advancing the notion that more troops could help execute a better kind of strategy. Still, for a day or so, his remarks set off a mini-firestorm, with Gov. Mitt Romney and the RNC immediately using the quote to paint Obama as disrespectful to the troops fighting there.
But the AP stepped in the next day, noting in a "fact check" piece that more civilians were, in fact, being killed by U.S.-led forces at that time than by the Taliban.
"As of Aug. 1, the AP count shows that while militants killed 231 civilians in attacks in 2007, Western forces killed 286. Another 20 were killed in crossfire that can't be attributed to one party," they wrote, in addition to reporting that Afghan President Hamid Karzai was concerned enough about the development to bring it up with President Bush.
After that, the Obama canard lost most of its salience. Until now.
In response to the McCain campaign statement, Obama spokesman Hari Sevugan wrote in an email to reporters: "Instead of a real debate about how to move forward in Afghanistan, it's clear that the Republicans would rather launch tired and old attacks to distract people from their record of completely failing to finish the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda."
Indeed, with U.S. casualties in Afghanistan outpacing those in Iraq recently, the argument for changing up our strategy against the Taliban and Al Qaeda has only taken on additional momentum in recent weeks. And even though former National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski recently told the Huffington Post he isn't persuaded that additional troops are the answer, the issue of civilian deaths still poses a big strategic problem (in addition to the moral one).
Regarding the backlash among Afghan citizens that could grow in the wake of a continued high civilian death rate, Brzezinski said "it's just beginning, but it's significant."