UN accuses US-led troops in deaths of Afghan civilians, including 60 children

by on August 26, 2008 · 1 comment

in War and Peace

By Fisnik Abrashi / August 26, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The United Nations said Tuesday it has found “convincing evidence” that U.S. coalition troops and Afghan forces killed some 90 civilians, including 60 children, in airstrikes in western Afghanistan.

The U.N. said it based its findings solely on the testimony of villagers and meetings with Afghan officials, and did not provide photos or evidence that its investigators saw any graves.

President Hamid Karzai’s government, in a harshly worded statement, ordered its ministries of foreign affairs and defense to regulate the presence of foreign troops and try to negotiate an end to “airstrikes on civilian targets, uncoordinated house searches and illegal detention of Afghan civilians.”

The U.S. coalition has said it killed 25 militants and five civilians in an operation in Shindand district of Herat province on Friday.

Karzai’s statement appears to be aimed at both international forces operating in Afghanistan: the U.S.-led coalition, which conducts special forces counterterrorism operations and trains the fledgling Afghan army and police, and the U.N.-mandated NATO-led force tasked to provide security for the war-ravaged nation.

The accusation from the world body will likely fuel tensions among the U.S. coalition, the U.N. and the Afghan government.

Karzai’s spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada, said Tuesday that the decision was made after Afghan officials “lost patience” with foreign forces, and the killings and detentions of civilians during raids in remote villages.

“We do not want international forces to leave Afghanistan until the time our security institutions are able to defend Afghanistan independently,” Hamidzada told reporters Tuesday.

But the presence of those forces has to be based “within the framework of Afghan law with respect to international law,” Hamidzada said.

Hamidzada says circumstances have changed. “Afghanistan of 2001 is different from Afghanistan today,” he said. He said the government has not discussed any timetable for the withdrawal of international forces from Afghanistan.

Capt. Mike Windsor, a spokesman for the NATO-led force, said the force had seen media reports about the government’s decision but had not received “any official notification so far.”

He pointed out that NATO’s “mission is based on a U.N. mandate and carried upon the invitation of the Afghan government.”

There was no immediate comment from the U.S.-led coalition.

The U.N. finding backed up the government claim. The U.N. said their investigation “found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men.”

“Fifteen other villagers were wounded or otherwise injured,” the U.N. said in a statement.

U.S.-led coalition troops, which were supporting Afghan commandos during the raid, said they believe that 25 militants, including a Taliban commander, and five civilians were killed during the Friday raid in Azizabad village of Herat province. The top coalition commander in the country has ordered an investigation.

White House spokesman Tony Fratto told reporters Monday that foreign forces in Afghanistan “take every precaution to try to avoid innocent civilian casualties.”

Asked about Karzai’s concerns about civilian casualties, Fratto said an investigation was under way. He said the Defense Department believes “it was a good strike.”

NATO and U.S. officials insist that they take great care in their targeting and accuse the militants of hiding in civilian areas, thus putting innocent people at risk.

The decision also comes a year ahead of Afghanistan’s presidential elections amid growing criticism that Karzai’s government is unable to contain the insurgency and deal with the deep-rooted corruption that afflicts officials in the government.

Karzai has said he will run in the election. No date has been set yet. [Go here for the article at RawStory.]

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

avatar Hugh Moore August 26, 2008 at 10:51 pm

Below is the letter I wrote to all my federal representatives after reading the below article. I hope others will do the same. Peace, Hugh

Dear Senator, Representative, President

As you can read in the attached article, the US military has killed 90 civilians in Afghanistan. I am certain that no member of the US military caused this disaster on purpose but the action occurred and the US government is accountable and must respond. I believe a congressional investigation is required and any responsible person must be punished.

As you are aware, any war will cause “collateral damage” and such damage must be weighed against the end goal of the war. The greater the “collateral damage” the greater the purposefulness must be. I believe we have already surpassed our ability to accomplish any purposeful gain and at this point must leave Afghanistan.

I want to know what action you intend to take to address both the continuing damage we are doing in Afghanistan and what action you are going to take in regards to the specific atrocity of August 22, 2008.


Hugh Moore

US air strike massacres civilians in western Afghanistan
By James Cogan
26 August 2008

In one of the worst atrocities of the US-led occupation of Afghanistan, as many as 90 civilians were massacred by an American air strike last Friday in the western province of Herat. At least 60 of those killed were children under the age of 15, according to Afghan government and military sources.
The slaughter was carried out by what is, for defenseless people on the ground, one of the most terrifying warplanes in the US arsenal, the AC-130 “Spooky” gunship. Equipped with a rapid-fire five-barrel 25mm Gatling gun, a 40mm cannon and a 105mm howitzer, it is designed to lay waste to exposed targets with a torrent of bullets and artillery shells.
The victims were part of a large crowd that had gathered in the village of Azizabad—a community near the government airfield at Shindand, some 120 kilometers south of the city of Herat—for a customary commemoration of the 40th day after the death of a local leader. Many of the men in the village work as security guards at the airfield.
How they came to be targeted by US aircraft is still shrouded in a fog of contradictory reports. According to the US military, an operation was underway against an insurgent group led by a man named Mullah Siddiq. Afghan government troops were allegedly ambushed on their way to intercept Siddiq. They reportedly fought off and then pursued their assailants to Azizabad, where they called in the AC-130 to devastate the village.
The initial reports released by the US military boasted that it had successfully attacked a meeting of Taliban militants in Herat province, killing at least 30. The truth emerged as Herat district officials, Afghan military personnel, aid workers, journalists and, eventually, a senior minister in the government of President Hamid Karzai, visited the scene.
On Friday evening, the Afghan interior ministry issued a statement declaring that “76 people, all civilians and most of them women and children were martyred… 19 women, 7 men and the rest children all under 15 years of age”. Karzai, who has repeatedly protested against indiscriminate US air strikes, issued his own statement, condemning the occupation forces for “martyring at least 70 people, most of them women and children”.
Raouf Ahmedi, a spokesman for the Afghan army, told the Washington Post that officials who travelled to Azizabad on Saturday had counted 60 children and 19 women among the dead. “We couldn’t and we haven’t found any identification showing they are Taliban,” he said. An Associated Press cameraman reported that he had seen some 20 destroyed houses and had counted 20 newly dug graves, including some that contained multiple corpses.
People from throughout the district demonstrated on Saturday in Azizabad, carrying a banner “Death to America”. They reportedly set a police car ablaze and threw stones at government troops attempting to distribute food and clothing to the survivors. Police allegedly fired into the crowd to disperse it, wounding at least eight people.
Ghulam Azrat, the principal of the local school, told Associated Press: “The people were very angry. They told the soldiers ‘We don’t need your food. We don’t need your clothes. We want our children. We want our relatives. Can you give it to us? You cannot, so go away’.”
By Sunday, the death toll from the air strike had been revised upward. Islamic Affairs Minister Nematullah Shahrani told Agence France Presse: “We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy, lots of houses have been damaged and more than 90 non-combatants, including women, children and elderly people have died. Most are women and children. They [the US military] have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it. So far, it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes.”
As word of the massacre spread across Afghanistan, Karzai attempted to stem the outpouring of opposition toward the US occupation by sacking the top military commander in western Afghanistan and the commander of the commando unit that called in the air strike. Referring to the false claims that Taliban had been killed, Karzai declared the two had been dismissed for “negligence and concealing facts”.
A spokesman for the Bush administration, Tony Fratto, issued a statement on Sunday that still refused to acknowledge that the US military had slaughtered civilians. Fratto declared: “These reports are being investigated and we’ll look for the results of that investigation.” In words dripping with cynicism, he stated: “Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harms way.”
A press release from US military headquarters in Afghanistan simply noted that it “was aware of allegations that the engagement in Shindand district of Herat province Friday may have resulted in civilian deaths”.
The massacre in Azizabad is only a particularly graphic incident in the frequent killing and maiming of Afghan civilians by American and NATO. Despite the propaganda claims of taking “precautions” and observing stringent rules of engagement, the occupation forces respond to insurgent attacks in populated areas with overwhelming firepower and rely heavily on air strikes to disrupt Taliban movements in rural areas.
As larger areas of Afghanistan fall under the sway of the Taliban, the air strikes become more indiscriminate. Any large group of people moving in the countryside or assembling in a village is treated as suspicious by the targeters who sit in secure bases and scour satellite images for potential targets for the pilots stalking the skies of Afghanistan. Wedding parties have been attacked repeatedly over the past six years—the most recent being the July 6 bombing of a wedding in Nangarhar, in which 47 people were killed, including the bride.
As many as 1,000 civilians have been killed so far this year in Afghanistan, of which close to 400 can be directly attributed to occupation forces. The rest are blamed by the UN on suicide attacks, bombings and other actions carried out by the Taliban.
The true number of civilian fatalities is likely to be far higher. In areas heavily bombed during major US or NATO offensives, some deaths are almost certainly not reported. There are also good grounds to suspect that some of the several thousand alleged insurgents killed this year were actually non-combatants caught up in the fighting.


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