Afghan government: More than 90 civilians killed by US airstrike

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Image: MarsRover.

Nematullah Shahrani, the Afghan government minister, has said that an investigation found that more than 90 civilians were killed in American led NATO air strikes early Friday in Azizabad, a village in Herat province. "Most are women and children" She continued: "They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it, so far, it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes."

Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, a spokeswoman for the U.S. military, said 30 Taliban insurgents were killed. The operation targeted a local Taliban commander, Mullah Siddiq. "We're confident that we struck the right compound," she said.

Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, a spokesman for NATO in Afghanistan, said investigators verified the deaths of five civilians. Probably relatives of the Taliban commander but the casualty numbers released by Afghan officials has not been confirmed by NATO.

Raouf Ahmedi, a spokesman for the western regional command of the Afghan army, said that the bodies of 60 children and 19 women were among the dead when Afghan military officials inspected the site on Saturday. "We couldn't and we haven't found any identification showing they are Taliban," Ahmedi said. Conflicting reports had earlier stated that a Taliban commander, Mullah Siddiq, was among those killed in the airstrike.

La'l Mohammad Omarzaisaid, district chief, said the bombed houses belonged to men who worked as security guards at an airstrip used by international troops that is 120km south of the city of Herat. Many of the dead had, in accordance with Afghan tradition, gathered to mark the 40th day since the killing of a militia commander. Ahmad Nader Nadery, an Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission researcher, said 15 houses had been destroyed and others were damaged. He also confirmed that memorial ceremony was being held for Timor Shah, deputy militia commander allied with the Afghan police. The death was related to a personal dispute. The memorial had attracted relatives and friends from outside Azizabad that were staying overnight in the village.

General Jalandar Shah Behnam, the head of the corps for western Afghanistan, and commando major Abdul Jabar were fired for "negligence and concealing facts," by Hamid Karzai, Afghanistan's president. The presidential decree also stated that "[i]n the tragic air strike and irresponsible and imprecise military operation in Azizabad village in Shindand district, more than 89 of our innocent countrymen, including women and children, were martyred." Karzai had earlier appealed to the U.S. led coalition to avoid civilian casualties and be careful.

In a statement the council of religious leaders for western Afghanistan said "Once again the enemies of Islam have stained their hands with the blood of innocent people ... we, the Muslim nation, will not accept their apologies this time," and demanded a trial for those involved. A demonstration on Saturday by villagers and relatives of the victims used banners that read "Death to America" and a police van was torched.

Recently an Afghan investigation found that around 47 civilians, most of them women, were killed on July 6 in coalition air strikes when they gathered for a wedding.


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