Afghanistan: US air-strike sparks protests —again

Village elders in Mehtar Lam district of Afghanistan‘s Laghman province say that as many as 22 noncombatants were killed in a Jan. 25 US air-raid, in the fist controversy over civilian casualties since Barack Obama took office. US military officials insisting only 15 were killed, all Taliban fighters. An official statement said the strike targeted a Taliban commander “known to traffic foreign fighters and weapons into the region” after coalition ground troops came under fire in the village. Village elders said there were no Taliban in the area, wand said the hamlet was populated mainly by shepherds. They said women and children were among the 22 civilian dead, according to Hamididan Abdul Rahmzai, head of the provincial council. (LAT, Jan. 25)

The outrage comes on the heels of a similar controversy in Pakistan.

  1. NATO forces killed 100 Afghan civilians in 2008
    The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan killed nearly 100 civilians in 2008, the alliance announced Jan. 28. “In 2008 NATO-ISAF was responsible for 97—let’s say, around 100—civilian casualties [deaths],” NATO spokesman James Appathurai told reporters. In contrast, Taliban/al-Qaeda insurgents killed 973 civilians last year, he said. (Xinhua, Jan. 28)

  2. US pays in Afghan deaths
    From AP, Jan. 20:

    U.S. commanders on Tuesday traveled to a poor Afghan village and distributed $40,000 to relatives of 15 people killed in a U.S. raid, including a known militant commander. The Americans also apologized for any civilians killed in the operation….

    Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, led Tuesday’s delegation into the village of Inzeri, a small collection of stone and mud homes set high in a steep, rocky valley. Insurgents have a strong presence in the region just 30 miles (50 kilometers) north of Kabul.

    A raid the night of Jan. 19 killed 15 people in Inzeri, including a targeted militant commander named Mullah Patang.

    Afghan officials admit that Patang was killed, but villagers say civilians also died and have pressed their complaints with U.S. officials and Karzai.

    The U.S. regularly makes payments to Afghan relatives of those killed in operations, but the payments are rarely publicized.

    The villagers met the U.S. delegation about 100 yards from 15 newly dug graves. American officials asked for a list of the dead, but villagers said no one there was literate.

    Julian told villagers that U.S. forces did not come Jan. 19 intending to fight, but opened fire after villagers fired on them. Many Afghan families are armed…

    Julian on Wednesday planned to meet with elders from neighboring Laghman province.

    Karzai said 17 civilians were killed in a Laghman raid on Jan. 7; the U.S. has said it killed 32 militants in that operation. The Afghan president also says U.S. forces killed 16 civilians during a raid in Laghman on Saturday.

    Gates said that despite the obstacles, U.S. forces must strive to avoid civilian deaths.

    “I believe that the civilian casualties are doing us enormous harm in Afghanistan, and we have got to do better in terms of avoiding casualties, and I say that knowing full well that the Taliban mingle among the people, use them as barriers,” the U.S. defense secretary told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

    “My worry is that the Afghans come to see us as part of their problem rather than part of their solution, and then we are lost.”