Sunday, September 7, 2008

Airstrikes and rising civilian toll

Human Rights Watch says US airstrikes have seen an "unprecedented surge" this year:

U.S. steps up Afghan air raids, more civil deaths-report

KABUL, Sept 8 (Reuters) - The United States has stepped up its use of air strikes in the war in Afghanistan, resulting in a high number of civilian casualties, a human rights group said on Monday...

"The U.S. ... has increasingly relied on airpower in counter-insurgency and counter-terrorism operations," the New York based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report.

"The result has been large numbers of civilian casualties, controversy over the continued use of airpower in Afghanistan, and intense criticism of U.S. and NATO forces by Afghan political leaders and the general public," it said...

Twice as many tons of bombs were dropped in 2007 than in 2006, HRW said, citing U.S. Air Force data. More people were killed by air strikes in 2007 than by U.S. or NATO ground fire.

"There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of airpower in Afghanistan in 2008. In the months of June and July alone the U.S. dropped approximately as much as it did in all of 2006," it said.

Civilian casualties are rarely the result of planned air strikes on suspected Taliban targets but almost always occur during "opportunity" strikes in support of ground troops that come under attack, HRW said...

Most civilian casualties during air strikes are also the result of U.S.-led coalition as opposed to NATO-led operations, HRW said. This is because they often operate where the insurgency is strongest and are governed by a different mandate and rules of engagement, it said... (link)
Meanwhile, the body count rises as US-led forces in Farah province reportedly killed two civilians alongside several Taliban fighters:
Afghan raid kills two civilians

KABUL, Sept 5 (BBC) - At least six Taleban militants and two civilians have been killed in air strikes by coalition forces in western Afghanistan, officials say...

The Afghan army says the dead civilians were a woman and a young boy.

A statement from the US-led coalition said: "Two civilians were killed and two wounded during the conduct of the insurgent ambush operation." ... (link)
Also, the New York Times reports that a missile fired from a US drone aircraft struck a village in Afghanistan. At least five civilians perished along with suspected militants:
U.S. Missiles Killed at Least Six People on Afghanistan-Pakistan Border, Residents Say


ISLAMABAD, Sept 5 - A missile strike from a remotely piloted United States reconnaissance aircraft killed 6 to 12 people in a group of houses in southern Afghanistan, very close to the border with Pakistan, Pakistani residents of the area said Friday.

The strike came after the United States carried out a commando raid by Special Operations forces in South Waziristan in Pakistan on the border with Afghanistan on Wednesday.

It was the first of what American military officials said could be more raids to attack Taliban insurgents in Pakistan’s tribal region. After the raid on Wednesday, Pakistan lodged a “strong protest” with the American government and said it reserved the right of retaliation.

The spokesman for the Pakistani Army, Maj. Gen. Athar Abbas, said the missile strike Friday did not take place on Pakistani territory...

Residents in Miran Shah also said the missile strike on Friday morning hit a target inside Afghanistan, and not inside Pakistan. They said the attack struck two residential compounds in the village of Al Must, less than a mile from the Pakistani border.

According to reports from Al Must reaching Miran Shah, 6 to 12 people, including men of Arab descent, were killed, said Ahsan Dawar, a journalist in Miran Shah. Among the dead were two women and three children, Mr. Dawar said...

It is common for families in these areas to rent part of their compound to foreigners, especially Arabs who are involved in planning attacks against NATO forces in Afghanistan, residents said... (link)
In response to the unprecedented American commando raid inside Pakistan on September 3, that government has reportedly suspended shipments of supplies bound for NATO and the US-led coalition in Afghanistan:
Tribune (Pakistan)
Pakistan cuts supply lines to Nato forces

BARA, Pakistan, Sept 6 - In a major development, the federal government on Friday announced disconnection of supply lines to the allied forces stationed in Afghanistan through Pakistan in an apparent reaction to a ground attack on a border village in South Waziristan agency by the Nato forces.

Political authorities of the Khyber Agency claimed to have received verbal directives to immediately halt transportation of all kinds of goods meant for the US-led Nato forces in Afghanistan for an indefinite period... (link)
While the Tribune isn't the only source which reports that the September 3 raid was undertaken by NATO troops, most western sources report that it was a US-led coalition effort (i.e. part of Operation Enduring Freedom). Pakistani reports say that the raid killed 20 people, including women and children.

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