Afghanistan: NATO opens offensive amid protests over civilian deaths

For the second time in less than 24 hours, the US military March 5 acknowledged involvement in an incident that caused multiple civilian deaths in Afghanistan—this time, an air strike that killed nine people from the same family. Afghan authorities say suspected Taliban insurgents targeted a NATO base late March 4 in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul. When the US forces returned fire, they apparently hit a civilian house killing at least five women and several young children. NATO will only say the matter is under investigation. The UN’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also said it would be issuing its own report on the incident. US officials blamed insurgents for placing civilians in harm’s way by deliberately staging attacks certain to draw retaliation. Some 20 Afghan civilians have died since March 4 as a result of attacks from US and NATO forces, and this is provoking anger in Afghanistan. A large protest was held March 5 in Jalalabad, where hundreds of students took to the streets chanting anti-American slogans following the previous day’s incident which left at least 10 civilians dead following an attack on a convoy of Marines. Witnesses say US forces kept firing after the insurgents had fled. (Pakistan Tribune, March 7; Radio Free Afghanistan, Toronto Star, March 6)

Meanwhile, British-led forces supported by US, Canadian and other coalition troops launched an offensive March 6 to drive the Taliban out of Helmand province. Operation Achilles will involve 4,500 NATO and 1,000 Afghan soldiers—one of the largest multinational forces fielded in a single operation in Afghanistan, says NATO’s International Security Assistance Force. (Canada Press, March 6)

See our last post on Afghanistan.