US to review deadly Afghan raid

Commander says there is “emerging evidence” about recent air raids in Herat.

Afghan officials say the strikes in Herat killed 90 civilians [File: EPA]
Afghan officials say the strikes in Herat killed 90 civilians [File: EPA]

‘Considerable fallout’

If the toll of 90 is confirmed, it would be one of the deadliest such incidents since the US led troops into Afghanistan seven years ago to remove the Taliban from government.

James Bays, reporting for Al Jazeera from Kabul, the Afghan capital, said villagers where the attack happened say more than 90 civilians, about 60 of them children, died in the raids.

“There will be considerable fallout from this incident,” he said.

“It has strained relations betwen US commanders and the Afghan government. Some UN officials are barely speaking to the US military, and there is unease among Nato nations but – most importantly – it [the incident] will affect Afghan public opinion, turning more people against foreign military involvement in their country.”

The Afghan government says that there is video footage with its intelligence agency supporting its claim that more than 90 were killed.

A Western official also says he has seen mobile telephone footage that shows children among the dead lined up in a mosque before they were buried.

“The video clearly shows 40-50 people under shrouds with at least 11-12 children with their heads blown off and their faces melted,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Adrian Edwards, a UN spokesman, said meanwhile that “the UN continues to stand by its finding”.

The coalition has said it called in the strikes in Shindand after its troops, said by Afghans to be special forces, came under attack while on patrol with Afghan commandos.

“Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans”

Brad Adams, Human Rights Watch Asia director

It says the dead civilians were relatives of a senior Taliban commander, who was among the dead.

But Afghan locals have said that the strikes hit people gathered overnight ahead of a ceremony to mark the death of an important local.

The incident prompted Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, to sack two senior Afghan army officers for western Afghanistan.

His government also demanded a review of the regulations governing the presence of international troops in Afghanistan.

Civilian deaths from international air strikes in Afghanistan nearly tripled between 2006 and 2007, said the New York-based Human Rights Watch on Monday.

Death toll

It said that in 2006 at least 699 Afghan civilians were killed in Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings, and at least 230 in international military action, around half in air strikes.

In 2007, at least 950 died in attacks by the Taliban and al-Qaeda, and at least 321 in air strikes.

HRW said the Taliban were guilty of causing civilian deaths by using ordinary people as “human shields” against troops, including by deploying into villages.

Tom Porteous, HRW’s director in London, told Al Jazeera that in the past Nato and the US have tended to react to reports of large numbers of civilian casualties after air strikes by denying them.

Then, he added, “as evidence emerges they blame the Taliban for taking refuge among the civilian poulation”.

“While we have have found evidence that the Taliban on some occasions have deliberately used civilians as human shields – and that is entirely reprehensible and against the law – that is not a valid defence for the very high number of civilian casualties that Nato and the US are causing,” he said.

The international forces, and the US military in particular, needed to “end the mistakes that are killing so many civilians”, said Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, in a statement accompanying the report.

“Mistakes by the US and Nato have dramatically decreased public support for the Afghan government and the presence of international forces providing security to Afghans,” he said.

“Civilian deaths from air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taliban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan.”

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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