NATO Apologizes after Killing Eight Afghan Children -- but Insists They Were a Threat
February 19, 2012
Ben Farmer / The Telegraph
NATO has expressed condolences for killing eight children in an airstrike last week, but insisted they were seen carrying weapons and were considered a threat to nearby French and Afghan troops. An RAF investigator admitted that no definite evidence of weapons was found at the site.
KABUL (February 15, 2012) -- Two bombs were dropped on the group of boys during a search operation last week looking for hidden weapons in the eastern province of Kapisa. Hamid Karzai has condemned the February 8 airstrike, but details remain contested.
Afghan government officials have said the group aged six to 18 were killed less than half a mile from their homes while herding sheep or collecting firewood in heavy snow.
Coalition officers investigating the deaths however reported the group of "adult-sized Afghans", was seen carrying weapons as it left a village about to be searched and then gathered under a boulder.
Gen Lewis Boone, spokesman for the coalition, said: "Their purposeful movements and the weapons they were seen to be carrying led the ground commander to believe they were getting ready to attack and were an imminent threat to coalition ground forces in the valley."
No definite evidence of weapons was later found at the site, the RAF officer who led the inquiry said.
Air Cdre Mike Wigston, said: "We were unable to get to the scene of the bombing until two days after the bombing and though we found some fragments that are believed to be weapons, that's all we found."
A cousin of one victim, who declined to be named, told The Telegraph the children were unarmed, though said they were led by a mentally-disabled man from the village who was carrying an axe.
Air Cdre Wigston said the children's bodies had been buried before investigators arrived at the village of Geyaba. Mobile phone footage and photographs suggested they were "young teenagers" aged up to 15 or 16.
"The ages which the villagers have given us have changed over the days," he added.
He said he had seen footage from the aircraft's camera which left him in no doubt they were armed.
He said: "These were young Afghans. They were adult-sized, athletic, strong, walking perfectly in the valley. I have no doubt that they were carrying weapons." It was not unusual for teenage boys to carry weapons in the region, he said.
NATO was looking at what help it could now give to Geyaba, he added, including building a road to the village.
"I absolutely am in no doubt that eight of their young men died on that day. Who they were and what they were doing we may never know."
Reports of Afghan civilian casualties continue to cause deep anger against NATO forces in Afghanistan. A United Nations report published earlier this month said NATO and Afghan forces had killed 410 civilians in 2011, down slightly from the previous year. Nearly four-fifths of civilian deaths are caused by insurgents, the report said.
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