US to probe deadly drone strikes in Afghanistan

UN will also independently verify allegations by people that those killed in Paktika attack were civilians.

A MQ-9 Reaper drone taxis at Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan
According to the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism, Afghanistan is the "most drone-bombed country in the world" [Efren Lopez/Reuters]

The NATO-led mission in Afghanistan has confirmed that the United States military will investigate into the US drone strikes in southeastern Afghanistan that killed 17 people last week.

Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, spokesman for the US-led coalition, told Al Jazeera on Monday, that they will conduct an investigation into the air strikes carried out in the Paktika province.

“Currently there is no evidence of civilian casualties, however, we are conducting a thorough investigation into the strikes,” Cleveland, who is part of the Operation Resolute Support, said.

READ MORE: Families of Afghan Killed in US drone raids seek probe

Relatives and tribal elders demanded an investigation on Saturday claiming that the air strikes hit civilians not members of armed groups.

However, Afghan officials told Al Jazeera that the people killed in the attack had links to the Taliban.

A day after the demand for the investigation, the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan confirmed to Al Jazeera that the reports would be investigated.

“UNAMA is verifying the facts around reports of 17 civilians killed and we will publish findings when available,” Dominic Medley, a UNAMA spokesman, told Al Jazeera.

“We look into civilian casualties across Afghanistan, but for this specific case, we have just started off verifying the facts and the report will take a while to have accurate findings.”

READ MORE: Portrait of an Afghan drone victim

 Mohammed Hassan Ghazizada, a former senator from Paktika province, told Al Jazeera that “investigations will prove the innocence of the people killed in the attack”.

“All these people were innocent, I know their families personally and I am also aware of what happened during the attack. This investigation will help them [US forces] confess their mistake.”

‘Increase in ariel attacks’

Afghan soldiers and police have struggled to contain an escalating insurgency after they took over the combat role on the US withdrawal of forces. About 9,800 US troops left in Afghanistan are focusing on counterterrorism operations across the country.

“After the withdrawal of most of the US-led international forces from Afghanistan, the US military’s reliance on aerial attacks has increased,” Dawood Azami, a regional analyst told Al Jazeera. 

“They don’t have enough ground forces and both the Afghan and foreign forces are already overstretched. Aerial attacks, whether by manned or unmanned aircraft, have at times resulted in what is usually called ‘collateral damage’.”

Nearly two months after the Taliban appointed Mullah Akhtar Mansoor as its leader, the armed group has captured new territories in northern and eastern Afghanistan.

READ MORE: Taliban fight kills 15 security troops in Afghanistan

“If fighting intensifies, which it seems like it will during this fighting season, the US’s reliance on air power will most likely be even greater this year,” Azami added.

US Secretary of State John Kerry made an unannounced visit to Afghanistan on Saturday and called on the Taliban to re-engage in peace talks dormant for almost a year.

However, Ghazizada believes peace won’t exist in the country if “innocent people are getting killed every day”.

“On one side they are negotiating with the Taliban and on the other side they are conducting air strikes to kill them. Why are they attempting to negotiating with them?” he said. 

“Afghanistan won’t see peace if in the name of ‘war against terror’ innocent people are dying.”

Follow Shereena Qazi on Twitter @shereenaqazi

Source: Al Jazeera