Anger and unrest continue over US raid in Laghman, Afghanistan

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Map of Laghman Province in Afghanistan.

On January 15, a United States military strike in the Afghan province of Laghman killed 15 people, according to U.S. officials. The U.S claims only militants were killed, but on Saturday, village elders disputed that claim with the allegation that the casualties were all civilians. The raid has sparked demonstrations in Afghanistan, with demonstrators renewing their pleas for the occupying forces to leave the country.

Afghan leaders have said that the U.S has apologized to them for the attack, but have not publicly admitted to making a mistake. In a statement, the U.S government described what they believed to be a successful mission against a wanted militant, saying, "the operation in Mehtar Lam District, approximately 60km northeast of Kabul City, targeted a Taliban commander believed to conduct terrorist activities throughout the Kabul, Laghman and Kapisa provinces."

"As coalition forces approached the wanted militant's compound, several groups of armed militants exited their homes and began manoeuvering on the force," added the statement. Nine fighters were killed by small-arms fire and four killed by "precision close-air support", the statement continued, adding that two other fighters were killed during a subsequent search of the houses in the compound.

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates (left) and Afghani President Hamid Karzai at a press conference in 2007.
Image: Cherie A. Thurlby, U.S. Department of Defense.

However, this version of events was contested when a statement from the Afghani president's office declared that 16 civilians were killed, not 15 militants. That statement also claimed that two women and three children were among the dead.

Thousands of angered Afghanis took to the streets in the Afghan city of Mihtarlam, chanting "death to Americans".

President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan condemned the incident, and said that bombing civilians "will not bear any progress in the war against terrorism".

U.S President Barack Obama has vowed to put more U.S troops in Afghanistan, ignoring a request from President Karzai that there be a timetable for U.S withdrawal from the country. Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the new administration's goal is to eliminate the threat posed by al-Qaeda and other groups. "Let me just say both President Bush and President Obama have made clear that we will go after al-Qaeda wherever al-Qaeda is and we will continue to pursue them," Gates said.