Jason Burke / The Observer & CBC News – 2007-07-01 09:09:47
‘Up to 80 Civilians Dead’ after US Air Strikes in Afghanistan
Jason Burke / The Observer
(July 1, 2007) — Air strikes in the British-controlled Helmand province of Afghanistan may have killed civilians, coalition troops said yesterday as local people claimed that between 50 and 80 people, many of them women and children, had died.
In the latest of a series of attacks causing significant civilian casualties in recent weeks, more than 200 were killed by coalition troops in Afghanistan in June, far more than are believed to have been killed by Taliban militants.
The bombardment, which witnesses said lasted up to three hours, in the Gereshk district late on Friday followed an attempted ambush by the Taliban on a joint US-Afghan military convoy. According to Mohammad Hussein, the provincial police chief, the militants fled into a nearby village for cover. Planes then targeted the village of Hyderabad. Mohammad Khan, a resident of the village, said seven members of his family, including his brother and five of his brother’s children, were killed.
‘I brought three of my wounded relatives to Gereshk hospital for treatment,’ he told the Associated Press news agency by phone. The villagers were yesterday burying a ‘lot of dead bodies’, Khan said.
He spoke as American forces in Iraq also found themselves heavily criticised over civilian deaths when eight people died, apparently caught in crossfire from a gunfight between insurgents and soldiers in Baghdad’s Sadr City yesterday. But residents, police and hospital officials said eight civilians were killed in their homes and angrily accused US forces of firing blindly on innocent people. Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki condemned the raids and demanded an explanation for the assault on a district where he has barred American operations in the past.
In Afghanistan, the civilian deaths caused by US and Nato-led troops have infuriated local people and prompted President Hamid Karzai to publicly condemn foreign forces for careless ‘use of extreme force’ and for viewing Afghan lives as ‘cheap’. The increasingly fragile President has urged restraint and better co-ordination of military operations with the Afghan government, while also blaming the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.
Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, raised the issue of civilian casualties on a four-hour visit to Afghanistan on Friday on which he met the senior Nato commander there, the American General Dan McNeill.
Senior British soldiers have previously expressed concerns that McNeill, who took command of the 32,000 Nato troops in Afghanistan only recently, was ‘a fan’ of the massive use of air power to defeat insurgents and that his favoured tactics could be counter-productive.
‘Every civilian dead means five new Taliban,’ said one British officer who has recently returned from Helmand. ‘It’s a tough call when the enemy are hiding in villages, but you have to be very, very careful,’ he added.
The American general has been dubbed ‘Bomber McNeill’ by his critics.
But Nato has ‘never killed and will never intentionally kill innocent civilians’, its secretary-general, Jaap de Hoop Scheffer, told a conference in Macedonia on Friday. ‘The majority of civilian casualties in Afghanistan have been caused by Taliban suicide bombs and roadside bombs.’
US Air Force Major John Thomas said that, after a long skirmish and under constant fire from the Taliban, troops of Isaf (the International Security Assistance Force), called for close air force support during an operation in Helmand, where the Taliban have been resurgent this year.
‘All enemy positions were destroyed, but after friendly forces surveyed the area, there were reports of some possible civilian deaths,’ Thomas said.
‘The remains of some people who appeared to be civilians were found among enemy fighters in a trench line,’ he added. The level of violence has soared in Afghanistan, with more than 2,800 people – mostly Taliban fighters – killed in fighting this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures issued in the last few days by Western military and Afghan officials.
A count by the United Nations and an umbrella organisation of Afghan and international aid groups shows the number of civilians killed by international forces was slightly greater than the number killed by insurgents in the first half of the year.
In Helmand’s Sangin district, Nato-led and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban fighters on Friday, leaving 15 of the militants dead, said Ezatullah Khan, a district chief. Helmand is the primary area of operations for the British troops deployed in Afghanistan.
There were no casualties among Nato and Afghan troops, the official said.
More than 3,000 British troops have been deployed in Helmand to combat both the Taliban and the drugs trade. Also in the south, two suspected Taliban members were killed while trying to place a homemade bomb on the side of a road in Zhari district of Kandahar province on Friday, said Ghulam Rasool, the district’s police chief.
Three children were also killed on Friday and another wounded when an old rocket they were playing with exploded in Zabul province in the south, said General Yaqoub Khan, the provincial police chief.
Guardian Unlimited © Guardian News and Media Limited 2007
Air Strikes Kill Op to 60 Civilians in Afghanistan
(June 30, 2007) — A week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai asked Western forces to be more careful with air strikes on suspected Taliban militants, Afghan officials said up to 60 civilians were killed in aircraft attacks late Friday.
Local officials also said 35 insurgents died in the air strikes in Helmand province. Helmand is a region of southern Afghanistan where the Taliban are active, just west of Kandahar province, where Canadian troops are based.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai on June 23 accused NATO and U.S.-led forces of mounting air strikes that killed many civilians.Afghan President Hamid Karzai on June 23 accused NATO and U.S.-led forces of mounting air strikes that killed many civilians.
(Farzana Wahidy/Associated Press)
NATO did not provide a casualty estimate, though a U.S. release said some civilians were killed after militants took shelter among them. No figures were provided.
“Remains of some people who apparently were civilians were found among insurgent fighters who were killed in firing positions in a trench line,” said Maj. Chris Belcher, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition.
“We are deeply saddened by any loss of innocent lives,” he added.
Confirming casualty figures in remote regions is difficult. Military and civilian figures often differ widely.
The fighting in Helmand began after a US-Afghan patrol was ambushed. Air strikes were launched at a nearby village of Hyderabad after the militants took cover there.
Hyderabad resident Mohammad Khan told the Associated Press that his brother and five of his brother’s children were killed in the attacks. He also took three relatives to hospital.
With files from the Associated Press
Civilians Die In U.S.-NATO Air Assault In Afghanistan
Griff Witte and Javed Hamdard / Washington Post
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, June 30 — Just a week after Afghan President Hamid Karzai chastised international forces for being “careless,” Afghan officials reported Saturday that possibly 100 or more civilians had been killed in a NATO and U.S.-led assault.
The battle in the southern Afghan province of Helmand, which was prompted by a Taliban ambush, began Friday night and continued into Saturday morning, Afghan officials said. It ended with international forces bombing several compounds in the remote village of Hyderabad.
“More than 100 people have been killed. But they weren’t Taliban. The Taliban were far away from there,” said Wali Khan, a member of parliament who represents the area. “The people are already unhappy with the government. But these kinds of killings of civilians will cause people to revolt against the government.”
Another parliament member from Helmand, Mahmood Anwar, said that the death toll was close to 100 and that the dead included women and children. “Very few Taliban were killed,” he said.
Spokesmen for the international forces acknowledged that civilians were killed in the battle, though they disputed the numbers. Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for the NATO force, said the civilian death toll was “an order of magnitude less” than what Afghan officials reported.
Thomas said U.S. ground forces helping to carry out a NATO mission had come under fire by Taliban insurgents using small arms, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars. Thomas said the troops responded by firing on insurgents who were shooting from a compound and a network of trenches. U.S. helicopters and NATO bombers were later brought in for support, he said.
Thomas said troops returned to the area after the battle and found what appeared to be civilian bodies among the dead insurgents in the trenches. “This confirms for us again that militants are willing to fire from among civilians,” he said.
“We are deeply saddened by any loss of innocent lives,” U.S. Army Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition forces spokesman, said in a statement. “Insurgents are continuing their tactic of using women and children as human shields in close combat.”
Karzai has not accepted that argument, repeatedly criticizing international troops for not doing more to protect noncombatants. After a series of particularly deadly incidents in June that Karzai blamed on poor coordination, he told reporters that international troops would have to “work the way we ask them to work.”
Violence has increased in recent months in Afghanistan, especially in Helmand. A NATO soldier was killed and another injured in a separate incident in the province Saturday. The force did not identify the soldiers’ nationalities.
Elsewhere in Afghanistan on Saturday, three civilians were killed and seven injured when a Taliban rocket missed a NATO base in the eastern province of Kunar.
More than 2,800 people have been killed in violence in Afghanistan so far this year, compared with 4,000 killed in all of last year, according to a tally by the Associated Press. The AP counts hundreds of civilians killed. Slightly more have been killed by NATO and U.S.-led forces than by the Taliban, according to several independent assessments.
Hamdard reported from Kabul.
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