Karine Jean-Pierre and John Kirby speak to repoorters

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby fields questions from reporters while White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre looks on in the White House in Washington, D.C. on May 28, 2024.

(Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

'We Did the Same Thing,' US Official Says After Israel's Rafah Massacre

One Afghanistan-born journalist said John Kirby's admission "does not excuse what Joe Biden's allies in Israel did in Rafah."

U.S. National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby on Tuesday defended Israel after its military killed and wounded hundreds of Palestinians in attacks on refugee encampments in and near the southern Gaza city of Rafah inside an Israeli-designated "safe zone."

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the first of the two attacks—which ignited a fire that burned people, including many women and children, alive inside their tents—a "tragic mistake."

Asked by a reporter what the consequences would be "if there were an American strike on a legitimate terrorist target that ended resulting with 45 civilian deaths and some 200 others injured," Kirby replied, "I can't answer a hypothetical like that."

"But we have conducted airstrikes in places like Iraq and Afghanistan, where tragically we caused civilian casualties," he continued. "We did the same thing. We owned up to it. We investigated it. And we tried to make changes... Wae tried to learn from it to make changes so that those set of mistakes wouldn't happen again."

Kirby referred to an August 2021 drone strike in Kabul that occurred during the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan that killed an aid worker and nine members of his family including seven children outside their home. A New York Times investigation subsequently revealed that the U.S. military knew that the strike likely killed civilians but initially lied about it, claiming there was "no indication" that noncombatants were harmed in the attack.

"We atoned for it, we learned from it, and we put in place procedures to try and prevent that from happening again," Kirby said of the strike, "and that's what our expectations would be in this case."

According to the Costs of War Project at Brown University's Watson Institute for International & Public Affairs, more than 432,000 civilians in over half a dozen countries have been killed by all sides during the course of the continuing open-ended U.S.-led War on Terror.

Since the Hamas-led October 7 attacks that left more than 1,100 Israelis and foreign nationals dead and over 240 others taken hostage, Israeli forces have killed at least 36,171 Palestinians—mostly women and children—according to Gazan and international officials. Israel's Gaza onslaught has also wounded at least 81,420 Palestinians; another 11,000 are missing and presumed dead and buried beneath the rubble of bombed buildings.

During Tuesday's press conference, CBS News reporter Ed O'Keefe asked Kirby how Israel's tent massacre doesn't violate U.S. President Joe Biden's shifting "red line" warning against invading Rafah.

"We don't want to see a major ground operation," Kirby replied. "We haven't seen that at this point."

O'Keefe followed up by asking, "How many more charred corpses does he have to see before the president considers a change in policy?"

"We don't want to see a single more innocent life taken, and I kind of take a little offense at the question," Kirby retorted. "No civilian casualties is the right number of civilian casualties, and this is not something that we've turned a blind eye to, nor has it been something we've ignored or neglected to raise with our Israeli counterparts."

Kirby's remarks came on the same day that Israeli tank fire on a makeshift refugee encampment in southern Gaza killed at least 21 people, at least a dozen of whom were women and children.

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