Reuters & Agence France-Presse – 2009-06-07 21:58:16
US Admits Deadly Afghan ‘Mistakes’
(June 04, 2009) — A US military investigation has revealed significant mistakes in air raids that killed dozens of civilians in western Afghanistan last month, a military official has said.
The unnamed official confirmed a New York Times report on Wednesday that the civilian casualties would have been lower if US air crews and ground troops had adhered to strict rules. “We do not have an issue with the accuracy of the story,” the official told the Reuters news agency on condition of anonymity.
The attack on Bala Buluk in Farah province was aimed at Taliban fighters but US defence officials say the failure to follow new procedures for aerial strikes probably led to the civilian casualties. The incident in early May stoked long-standing tensions between Afghans and foreign troops over civilian casualties.
Afghan officials have put the civilian death toll as high as 140 while an Afghan human rights watchdog put the total at 97, including at least two Taliban fighters. But the US military says 20-35 civilians were among the 80-95 people killed, adding that most of them were Taliban fighters who used the civilians as human shields.
The Times report did not say how many civilian casualties may have been avoided if the correct procedures had been followed. The Pentagon has not officially responded to the report.
General David Petraeus, the head of US Central Command which is the military headquarters overseeing US military operations across the Middle East and into Central and South Asia, ordered the investigation.
Students Rally over Afghan Deaths
Protesters described the US as the ‘world’s biggest terrorist’
(May 10, 2009) — University students have rallied in the Afghan capital, Kabul, angered by the deaths of more than 125 villagers in a US air raid. The students took to the streets on Sunday, saying they held the US responsible for the killings in Farah province and demanding that those who ordered the air raids be put on trial.
During the protest outside Kabul University, a student leader read out a statement saying: “Our people are fed up with Taliban beheadings and suicide
bombings. On the other hand, the massacre of civilians by the American forces is a crime that our people will never forget.” Members of the crowd yelled “Death to the biggest terrorist” and “long live Islam”.
It is the second demonstration since the Farah province assault last Monday. A demonstration in the provincial capital, also called Farah, on Thursday turned violent as protesters threw stones and police fired shots.
The killings are said to be the largest single loss of civilian life since US-led forces entered Afghanistan to overthrow the Taliban rulers of Kabul. A joint investigation by the US military and Afghan forces has acknowledged that “a number” of civilians died in the incident, but is yet to give a full account of what happened.
Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, is under increasing pressure over the US military presence in the country, and over deadly aerial bombardments in particular. On Saturday, he repeated his call for the US to end air strikes.
The US has apologised in the past for civilian deaths due to air raids and has promised to take measures to avoid a repeat of the loss of life.
The Times, citing an unnamed senior military official, said the investigation had concluded that one US aircraft was cleared to attack Taliban fighters, but circled back and did not reconfirm the target before dropping bombs. That, the report said, left open the possibility that the fighters had fled or civilians had entered the target area in the intervening few minutes.
A compound where fighters were massing for a possible counter-attack against US and Afghan troops was struck in violation of rules that required a more imminent threat to justify putting high-density village dwellings at risk, The Times said.
“In several instances where there was a legitimate threat, the choice of how to deal with that threat did not comply with the standing rules of engagement,” the newspaper quoted its source as saying. A second military official told the Reuters news agency that the mistakes appeared to be linked to the choice of weapons used in the operation rather than any violation of the rules themselves.
The official said the investigation was still being reviewed and it was possible Petraeus could ask for further work to be done before the report was finalised.
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