UN: air-strike in Afghanistan killed 90 civilians

The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) reported that an investigation by its human rights team found that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, during operations carried out by international and Afghan military forces on Aug. 21 in Shindand district in Afghanistan’s western Herat province—contradicting claims of the US government.

“I am really alarmed by the number of casualties caused by this air-strike and other similar military operations,” the Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Children and Armed Conflict, Radhika Coomaraswamy, said in a statement. “Children are bearing the brunt of this Conflict and also experiencing physical and psychological trauma.” (UN News Centre, Aug. 27)

See our last post on civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

  1. Air Strike in Afghanistan
    This is a disingenuous account by the International media regarding this air strike in Afghanistan, and is a pure case of circular and biased reporting. The UN Humans Rights Team in Herat stated that they have oral evidence from villages only – which is far from compelling evidence. They have not sent any Internationals to the scene to verify the claim by the villages due to the security situation in the Western Province, and there is no physical or forensic evidence to support this claim as yet. This is because of Muslim tradition that all the bodies of the dead be buried asap.

    However, I am not saying that there weren’t any civilian casualties – what I am saying is that we really don’t know the facts yet. What is clear is people were killed in the air strike. Exactly who was killed (Insurgents vs Civilians) and the numbers are not verified as yet.

    Until a proper investigation is conducted, and the real facts of the matter established – these claims of 90 civilians and 60 children killed in this incident are still unverified.

    James Sadler
    Consultant in Afghanistan

    1. “convincing evidence”
      The above report is not from the “media.” Rather, it is to the media—it is a press release from the UN. The following Aug. 27 AP report backs up what you say:

      KABUL — The United Nations said Tuesday that “convincing evidence” exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians. The U.S. military stood by its account that 25 militants and five civilians were killed.

      The U.N. sent a team of investigators who relied solely on villagers’ statements in alleging that Friday’s operation, which also included Afghan troops, in the western province of Herat killed “60 children, 15 women and 15 men.”

      The U.N. did not provide photos or evidence that its investigators saw any graves, but said that “residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.”

      “The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some seven to eight houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others,” the statement said.

      Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the U.N. in Kabul, said the investigation is continuing.

      So, for whom are you a “consultant,” Mr. Sadler?

      1. Bill,
        In reply to your


        In reply to your comment – I don’t know the full story of what happened in Shindand District, Herat Province, and like you wait to see the outcome of the investigation. My point was that the media reported what was at this stage an unverified allegation as fact – in essence a sensational headline to grab everyones attention – to illustrate here are some media headlines –

        e.g. ‘UN confirms killing of 90 civilians by Coalition air raid in W. Afghanistan’ – Xinhua Online, ‘UN says Disputed US Airstrike Killed 90 Afghan Civilians’ – Voice of America News, ‘UN accuses US-led fores of killing Afghan Civilians’ – Irish Sun, ‘UN finds Airstrike Killed 90 Afghans’ – Washington Post, ‘ US-led air strikes killed 90 Afghans, UN finds’ – National Post – Ottawa Citizen.

        The UN media release clearly stated that its team only conducted verbal interviews, no bodies, no photo’s, no forensic evidence etc, and that the investigation is ongoing. And from this – the media report that the UN definitively claim that 90 Afghans were killed in the attack. It’s a weak case at this stage put forward by the media, which it seems everyone has jumped on.

        I wait for the facts….. that’s all, and that was my point.

        1. Same as it ever was
          Right James, while you wait for the facts (just the facts,ma’m) another 90 third world nobodies are massacred under american bombs, like at least 20,000 Afghanis since 2001, or over a million in Iraq since the invasion. And who knows how many Pakistanis on the border…

          Does it matter really? Does anyone think any member of the Bush-Cheney regime will ever see the inside of a courtroom to answer for that, they have a word for it, “collateral damage”? I for one don’t hold a candle to that Utopian day, those bastards will die of old age just like Reagan who funded the massacre of thousands of Nicaraguans and Hondurans, or Nixon who bombed the hell out of thousands of Laotian or Cambodian peasants from a safe distance.

          1. Reality Check
            Hey Leo….. you do know there is a war in Afghanistan don’t you? And, whether you like hearing this or not, those nations that are here in this worn torn nation are doing a lot of good. There have been a lot of mistakes made, but generally the country is a lot better off than it was in 2001 under the Taliban. How do I know this? Because I’ve been here on the ground with Aid Agencies and the UN working for the last 4 years.

            There is still a long way to go before this country and it’s Government/people are back on their feet and enjoy the comforts and liberties you enjoy. It’s very easy to criticize from afar in the safety of your ‘Utopian’ reality – where good is bad and bad is good. It’s quite a different matter living and working here amongst it on the ground.

            Another reality check – there are actually bad people out there! – the kind that don’t think twice about killing innocent people in suicide attacks on a near daily basis, the same kind of people that flew planes into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. I don’t hear the same outcry about their tactics and the people they have killed in Afghanistan and Iraq.

            I’ll give you a recent example quote – ‘The Taliban have intensified their suicide campaign over the past week. Taliban bombers have struck in Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Wah, Dera Ismail Khan, Swat, and Bannu, killing more than 170 Pakistanis and wounding more than 240’ (The Long War Journal) – where’s the outcry over this from the international community? ………… silence…………

            I support Human Rights and the respect for life and property, and yes, as the West our leaders and countries need to as well. We are held to a higher standard. However, one must remember that your reality, and the reality on the ground are two very different things.

            1. Reality Check, yourself
              Leo’s assumption that his greater political truths make “the facts” irrelevant is certainly simplistic and annoying, but let’s try to keep our eye on the ball here. The reason there is no outcry from the “international community” over Taliban suicide attacks is that the Taliban (unlike the US and NATO/ISAF) does not purport to act in the name and interest of the “international community”! The “international community” is supposed to be fighting those guys. It is assumed that their tactics are atrocious. Issuing press statements decrying the Taliban’s tactics would legitimize them. Is that what you want?

  2. More convincing evidence
    From AP, Sept. 8:

    Video shows dead Afghan children after US raid
    KABUL — The bodies of several children lay dead in two videos that show the aftermath of a U.S.-led operation the Afghan government and U.N. say killed 90 civilians.

    The video obtained Monday, apparently taken by a cell phone, is grainy and details such as a precise body count are difficult to make out. A second video shows gruesome detail of children severely disfigured.

    The two videos, both obtained by The Associated Press, give weight to Afghan and U.N. findings that scores of civilians, including 60 children and 15 women, died in the Aug. 22 raid in the village of Azizabad.

    A U.S. investigation found that only seven civilians died. But the U.S. on Sunday said it would reopen the investigation because of emerging new evidence.

  3. Pentagon confirms Afghan civilian casualties
    From the New York Times, Oct. 8:

    30 Civilians Died in Afghan Raid, U.S. Inquiry Finds
    WASHINGTON — An investigation by the military has concluded that American airstrikes on Aug. 22 in a village in western Afghanistan killed far more civilians than American commanders there have acknowledged, according to two American military officials.

    The military investigator’s report found that more than 30 civilians — not 5 to 7 as the military has long insisted — died in the airstrikes against a suspected Taliban compound in Azizabad.

    The investigator, Brig. Gen. Michael W. Callan of the Air Force, concluded that many more civilians, including women and children, had been buried in the rubble than the military had asserted, one of the military officials said.

    The airstrikes have been the focus of sharp tensions between the Afghan government, which has said that 90 civilians died in the raid, and the American military, under Gen. David D. McKiernan, the top American military commander in Afghanistan, which has repeatedly insisted that only a handful of civilians were killed.

    The report was requested by General McKiernan on Sept. 7, more than two weeks after the airstrikes, in response to what he said at the time was “emerging evidence” about the raids. While American commanders in Afghanistan have contended that 30 to 35 militants were killed in the raid, the new report concludes that many among that group were in fact civilians, the military officials said.

    According to the new report, fewer than 20 militants died in the raid, which was conducted jointly by American and Afghan forces, and in subsequent airstrikes carried out by an AC-130 gunship in support of the allied ground forces.

    From US Central Command, Oct. 8:

    CENTCOM concludes Shindand investigation
    MACDILL AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. – Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, Acting Commander U.S. Central Command, received findings today from the investigating officer assigned to review the Aug. 22 operation in the vicinity of Azizabad, Shindand District, Herat Provence, Afghanistan.

    The investigation accounted for approximately 22 insurgents and 33 civilian deaths as a result of the operation in Azizabad, which differs from both the initial U.S.-led investigation and those of other organizations in Afghanistan. This investigation was comprehensive and included independent information from witnesses in Azizabad and from previous investigations. Additionally, the investigating officer found that while there were increased numbers of civilian casualties, Coalition Forces acted based on credible intelligence, in self-defense, and in accordance with the Standing Rules of Engagement and the Law of War.

    “We are deeply saddened at the loss of innocent life in Azizabad,” said Dempsey. “We go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan in all our operations, but as we have seen all too often, this ruthless enemy routinely surround themselves with innocents,” he continued.

    Recommendations from the Investigating Officer also included calls for improved cooperation between U.S. Forces and the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GIRoA) in matters of dispute, and that cooperation with International Government Organizations (IGO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO) would benefit future investigations.