Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com & Khalid Alokozay and Fahim Abedaug / The New York Times – 2017-08-13 00:42:50
US Airstrikes Kill at Least 16 Civilians in Eastern Afghanistan
Civilians Were Trying to Flee District Where Fighting Was Ongoing
Jason Ditz / AntiWar.com
(August 11, 2017) â€“ Afghan officials today confirmed that US airstrikes targeted and killed at least 16 civilians, mostly women and children, in the eastern Nangarhar Province, targeting the civilians as they tried to flee out of an ISIS-held district where heavy fighting has been ongoing.
The governor of the Haska Meena District said that the attacks targeted vehicles trying to get out of the area, and that eight of the slain were all members of the same family. An unspecified number of others were wounded in the attack.
The Pentagon, for its part, confirmed the attack, but insisted that everyone killed was an “extremist fighter,” and that they believed the people piling their meager possessions into the vehicles were actually “loading weapons.” Officials added that because the vehicles were in the middle of nowhere “there was zero chance of civilian casualties.”
Which would conceivably have been true if the vehicles weren’t packed full of civilians in the first place. Claims of “extremists” are common enough for the Pentagon at first blush, but with the casualties heavily women and children, it won’t stand up to much scrutiny.
This is the second strike in the last few weeks in the district which killed civilians. The previous attack targeted a prayer ceremony, and the US similarly claimed that the praying civilians were “ISIS members.”
US Airstrikes in Afghanistan Are Said to Kill 16 Civilians
Khalid Alokozay and Fahim Abedaug / The New York Times
(August 11, 2017) — JALALABAD, Afghanistan — Afghan officials said on Friday that American warplanes killed 16 civilians as they tried to flee an area in eastern Afghanistan controlled by Islamic State militants, but the United States military insisted the dead had been extremist fighters.
Hajji Saz Wali, the governor of Haska Meena District in the southern part of Nangarhar Province, said the victims included women and children, with eight of the dead from one family, and four others from a second. It was the second time since July 24 that an airstrike in that district killed civilians, according to Afghan officials.
The latest victims died Thursday afternoon when the vehicles they were traveling in were hit by American airstrikes believed to be targeting Islamic State militants in the area, Mr. Wali said. It is not known how many were wounded, he added.
A spokesman for the American military in Kabul said that those killed in the airstrikes had been seen loading weapons into a vehicle. “The strike was conducted in the middle of open terrain,” said the spokesman, Bob Purtiman. “There was zero chance of civilian casualties.”
Attaullah Khogyani, the spokesman for Nangarhar Province’s governor, confirmed that casualties had occurred but declined to give details.
Mohammada Khan, 42, a truck driver, said in a telephone interview that he had lost six members of his family — including two children and two women — in the airstrike, which hit a minibus in which they were fleeing.
“We got to the area of the bombing and put their body parts in a truck and brought them to Jalalabad city, where we buried them this morning,” he said. “There were no ISIS members in the area. It was not a valley or a mountainous area. It was a clear area, and they should understand that people in the vehicle are civilians, as the car was a civilian car.”
Mr. Khan added, “But it was God’s will, so we cannot say anything.”
On July 24, Afghan officials said, nine civilians were killed in an American airstrike on a prayer ceremony held in Haska Meena, near the border with Pakistan, by relatives of ISIS members who had been killed.
The American military asserted that that strike, too, targeted fighters. “This is the second false claim of civilian casualties in the same district within the last three weeks,” the military said in a news release.
As American airstrikes continue at a rapid pace, there have been a number of such episodes in recent months.
Claims of civilian deaths from airstrikes have occurred this year in Kunduz in the north and in Helmand Province in the south, often as a result of fighting in areas where it can be difficult to distinguish insurgents from civilians.
Haska Meena District, also known as Dih Bala District, is in a rugged area neighboring Achin District. Achin was long a stronghold of the Islamic State and was where the United States dropped the so-called mother of all bombs in April, the largest conventional bomb ever deployed, on a tunnel and bunker complex where insurgents had taken refuge.
That led Islamic State fighters to seek new refuge, including in the Tora Bora cave and tunnel complex in Nangarhar, which Osama bin Laden once used as a hide-out. The Islamic State fighters are believed to be relatively few, and in the Nangarhar area they fight against both the Afghan government and the more numerous Taliban insurgents.
The United States military has deployed Special Forces and airstrikes against Islamic State militants in Afghanistan and says it has killed dozens of the group’s leaders and hundreds of fighters this year.
Casualties among Afghan civilians, especially women and children, have risen to a record this year, according to a recent report from the United Nations. Most of those deaths have been attributed to insurgents, particularly through suicide bombings, rather than to airstrikes and other pro-government actions, the report said.
Rod Nordland contributed reporting from London.
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