US forces kill civilians in Afghanistan air strike

United States forces killed at least one child, video footage obtained by Reuters on Wednesday showed, in an air strike in western Afghanistan that police say killed 12 civilians and US forces said killed 16 militants.

Video taken in the Gozara district of Herat province in the aftermath of the attack on Monday showed mangled, unrecognisable clumps of flesh—all that remained of several people and dozens of animals killed in a tented nomad encampment. One body that was recognisable was that of a young boy.

“The information we have is 12 civilians, including six women, four men and two children have been killed in the bombardment,” General Ikramuddin Yawar, chief of police in western Afghanistan told Reuters.

The Afghan Defence Ministry said “seven terrorists” were among “several civilians” killed in the strike.

“Unfortunately, we have to say the terrorists hide themselves among the civilian population and use civilian homes as hideouts and that such actions cause civilian deaths,” the ministry said in a statement.

More than 2 100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, 40% more than 2007, the United Nations said on Tuesday, and a quarter of all civilian casualties, 552 people, died as a result of air strikes by US and Nato-led forces.

News of the attack comes as US President Barack Obama on Tuesday ordered 17 000 more US troops to Afghanistan to try to break the stalemate against Taliban insurgents fighting to overthrow Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s Western-backed government and drive out foreign forces.

Commander targeted, survives
Karim Khan, one of the survivors of Monday’s strikes said aircraft started bombing the area at four in the morning.

The regional police chief said both civilians and militants were among those killed and about 60 animals and 18 tents in the encampment of 100 families were also destroyed in the air raid.

US-led coalition forces said 16 militants including a wanted commander were killed in Monday’s air strike.

“A coalition forces precision strike targeted Gholam Yahya Akbari, a key insurgent commander ... Killed in the attack were up to 15 militants suspected of associating with Yahya,” the US military said in a statement.

“Knowing he is targeted by coalition forces, Yahya shows a total disregard for human life by operating among the civilian population,” US forces spokesperson Lieutenant Colonel Rick Helmer said in the statement.

There were no official reports of civilian casualties, he said, but any confirmed reports of civilian deaths would be investigated.
Akbari himself was not killed in the attack and spoke to a Reuters reporter by telephone on Tuesday.

The UN said the transparency and independence of inquiries into civilian deaths by foreign and Afghan forces was a source of concern, as was the placement of military bases within urban areas where there was a high concentration of civilians.

The issue of civilian casualties is the biggest source of tension between Karzai and his Western backers and has led to a steady drop in public support for the continued presence of nearly 70 000 troops in the country.

The Afghan Defence Ministry condemned the killing of civilians which it said was particularly worrying as it came less than a week after an agreement between the ministry and international forces to work more closely together in order to cut civilian deaths.

US officials admit that more than seven years after US-led troops toppled the Taliban for harbouring al-Qaeda leaders behind the September 11 attacks, Washington and its allies are not winning in Afghanistan.

Military commanders warn violence will further increase this year as the new troops move into areas foreign forces have seldom patrolled before, and that would likely lead to a rise also in civilian casualties.—Reuters

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