Sunday, August 24, 2008

Herat bombing toll: 90 civilians (updated)

An Afghan government investigation has found that 90 civilians - 60 children and teens, 15 women, 15 men - were killed and six civilians were injured. The US government appears to have acknowledged civilian casualties but has not named a number.

Radio Free Europe has the story:

Afghanistan Concludes 90 Civilians Killed In Coalition Air Strike
By Abubakar Siddique

AUG 24 - An Afghan government investigation has found that some 90 civilians, including 60 children and teenagers, were killed in a coalition air strike in a village in the western Afghan province of Herat on August 22.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the deaths and sacked two senior Afghan military commanders for negligence...

A survivor of the August 22 air strike in Azizabad village in Shindand district of Herat Province told RFE/RL that he lost 11 family members in the bombing. He blamed local authorities for feeding the wrong information to coalition troops.

“The district governor [of Shindand district] has grievances with the residents of Zer Koh [where Azizabad village is located]," the man said. "He gave them wrong information, and they bombed us all and spared nobody.”...

First Lieutenant Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL on August 23 that the United States was not aware of any civilian casualties having occurred in the operation...

On August 24, without confirming the reports of 90 deaths, Tony Fratto, a spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush, said, "We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect. Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harm's way." ... (link)
Note that the survivor interviewed attests that a local authority used the US/NATO air force to settle scores or otherwise advance his own agenda. This isn't the first time such accusations have been made by Afghans, though obviously it's hard to tell if those accusations are themselves disinformation.

Meanwhile, Reuters adds some details to Saturday's protest in Shindand, saying that residents condemned both the Afghan military and the United States. According to Reuters:
Hundreds of people demonstrated in Shindand district on Saturday, saying Americans should withdraw from the area.

"We will continue our demonstration till the international community listens to us and bring those who carried out yesterday's attack to justice," village elder Shah Nawaz told Reuters...

The demonstrations erupted in Shindand after Afghan soldiers arrived in the area to bring aid to the victim's families, Nawaz said, adding Afghan soldiers fired shots into the air and wounded six people after the crowd threw stones.

"People didn't accept the aid and started throwing stones at the soldiers saying the Afghan army is our enemy, we don't want anything from our enemies," he said... (link)
The Guardian's correspondent Jason Burke relates one local man's personal tally:
Mawlawi Gul Ahmed, a local elder and MP for the Shindand area in the southwest of the country, where the attack took place early on Friday, said he had spoken to villagers who had buried 92 bodies, including women and children... (link)
And Carlotta Gall of the New York Times relays the Afghan government's latest estimate of 95 dead civilians:
Afghan president decries airstrike he says killed 95

KABUL, Aug 24 - President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned a coalition airstrike that he said killed up to 95 Afghan civilians in a village in western Afghanistan...

Government officials who traveled to the village of Azizabad in Herat province yesterday said the death toll had risen from 76 to 95, making it one of the deadliest bombing strikes on civilians in six years of the war... (link)

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