Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Herat: tragedy and denial

Now that the UN, Afghanistan's human rights commission, the Afghan government, and journalists, have each investigated the Azizabad incident in Herat and all concluded that there were scores of civilians killed, the US military still maintains that 25 Taliban and five civilians were killed:

UN accuses US-led troops in deaths of Afghans

KABUL, Aug 26 (AP) - In a stark warning to U.S. forces, the Afghan government said it will try to regulate the presence of U.S. troops and their use of airstrikes, while the U.N. on Tuesday announced that "convincing evidence" exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians.

The U.N. sent in a team of investigators, who relied solely on villagers' statements in alleging the American-led operation in the western province of Herat on Friday killed 60 children and 30 adults. The U.S. military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the operation...

The U.N. said that "residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims."

"The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others," the statement said... (link)
True to character, the Institute for War and Peace Reporting got Afghan journalists to interview locals. Their piece reveals that the Afghan government commission sent to investigate the incident found that no Taliban were killed by the bombs and further that no Taliban were present in Azizabad at the time of the attack:
Afghans Incensed by Air Attack on Village
By Sayed Yaqub Ibrahimi and Sadeq Behnam

KABUL and HERAT, Aug 26 (IWPR)

... “Americans think that all Afghans are terrorists, and they send rockets and missiles against us,” said Gulbuddin, a resident of Azizabad. “I myself buried more than 50 women and children. Are all of them terrorists?”

According to the New York Times, the bomb struck a gathering of local people who had gathered to honour the memory of a man who died one year earlier.

This was borne out by Fatima, 25, who lost eight members of her family, including her husband and children, in the attack. She spoke to IWPR from her hospital bed in Herat, where she wept and cursed those who carried out the air strike.

“We were holding a memorial service in our home,” she said, tears running down her face. “Suddenly the infidels attacked and I lost consciousness. When I came to, I was in hospital, and they told me that all of my family were dead and already buried. Was my two-year-old child a terrorist? Then am I not also a terrorist? Why did they let me live?” ...

Naimatullah Shahrani, the Minister for the Hajj who was appointed head of a presidential commission tasked with investigating the Azizabad attack, told IWPR that no insurgents were killed.

According to our investigation, there was not a single armed individual from the opposition in the area,” he said...

Residents of Azizabad protested when the commission attempted to distribute funds, throwing rocks and forcing them out of the area.

A television report showed one angry father, who screamed at the camera, “Karzai can keep his money. I want my child. Will this money bring him back?” ...

The Taleban were better than this puppet government and its masters,” said Nur Ahmad, 55, who said he was saved by a rescue team in Azizabad after being buried in rubble by the attack. “The Taleban would at least distinguish between civilians and enemies. But these thugs think everybody is their enemy.” (link)
The Guardian adds that the government commission found that 15 Afghan civilians were injured in the airstrike, (rather than six as reported earlier) while the Sunday Mail states that eight (rather than six) civilians were injured in the clash between Afghan soldiers and angry locals:
Soldiers were also blamed for wounding eight people in the target village after they threw stones at them as they handed out food yesterday... (link)
Meanwhile, the National Post relates the words of a resident of Azizabad:
Haji-Gul Ahmad, who lost family members in the attack, said several relatives were there for the funeral of his brother and were staying in the area that was hit. He said one family lost 76 members in the raid.

"We are not helping the Taliban, nor were they in the village," Mr. Ahmad said in a telephone interview Tuesday. "We don't know why the coalition forces raided our village with blind eyes. This does not make sense."

Mr. Ahmad said there have been protests at the Aziz Bad police station since and locals have been throwing stones at coalition forces who are trying to administer humanitarian aid in the area... (link)
Mr. Ahmad's comment that coalition forces were handing out aid indicates that foreign troops have attempted to dispense aid, which suggests that foreign troops may have been present, or involved, when the Afghan troops injured the eight civilians.

(Earlier entries on the Herat tragedy: First, second, third.)

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