News & Current Affairs

September 9, 2008

US to review Afghan attack case

US to review Afghan attack case

US forces in Afghanistan are to review an inquiry into an air raid last month after new video evidence emerged indicating scores of civilian deaths.

The US had earlier said that no more than seven civilians died in the attack on the western province of Herat.

However, the Afghan government and the UN said up to 90 people were killed, including many women and children.

The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) says such attacks are eroding support for the government and foreign forces.

HRW says civilians deaths from international air strikes nearly tripled between 2006 and 2007.

Disturbing footage

The US general in charge of NATO-led troops (Isaf) in Afghanistan said at the weekend that he was requesting the US military’s Central Command to review the investigation into last month’s air raid.

Gen McKiernan said Isaf realized there was “a large discrepancy between the number of civilian casualties reported by US and Afghan National Army soldiers, and local people”.

The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan
Rachel Reid
Human Rights Watch

The US military subsequently said it would “appoint a senior US military officer to review the investigation into the combined Afghan National Army (ANA) and US forces operation”.

A US military statement said: “This review will consider new information that has become available since the completion of the initial investigation.”

Disturbing video footage – apparently of the aftermath of the raid – has been seen by top military figures and diplomats in Kabul.

The shaky footage – possibly shot with a mobile phone – shows some 40 dead bodies lined up under sheets and blankets inside a mosque.

The majority of the dead are children – babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they are barely recognizable.

The covers are removed for the camera one by one: a little girl of perhaps four with brown curly hair; a boy with his eyes still eerily open; another girl with huge injuries on the side of her head.

Graves being prepared Azizabad for people killed in last month's attack by US forces

Villagers say up to 90 civilians died in last month’s attack by US forces

Another boy has his hand up as if to protect his face which was crushed under the rubble.

Clearly heard on the tape is the crying of relatives and the survivors of the bombing raid.

US forces had originally said seven civilians were killed in a “successful” US raid targeting a Taleban commander in Azizabad village in Herat’s Shindand district.

However, the UN, the Afghan government and an Afghan human rights group said the number of civilian deaths was far higher.

Their estimates of the number of civilians killed varied between 76 and 90, with the UN eventually concluding that children accounted for 60 of the dead.

The dispute over the figures had escalated into a fierce behind-the-scenes battle behind the UN and the Pentagon.

Warning over deaths

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Monday that decreased reliance on ground forces and greater use of air power was leading to “mistakes” that had “dramatically decreased” support for the Afghan government and international troops.

“Civilian deaths from air strikes act as a recruiting tool for the Taleban and risk fatally undermining the international effort to provide basic security to the people of Afghanistan,” Brad Adams, Asia director of HRW, said in a statement.

Hamid Karzai visiting Azizabad

Afghan President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad after the air strike

The group found that in 2007 at least 321 Afghan civilians had been killed in international air strikes – a rise from at least 116 in 2006.

This figure was much lower than the number of civilians killed in militant attacks, the group said. Nearly 950 people were killed by insurgents in 2008, compared with 700 in 2006.

HRW said most of the air strike casualties occurred in unplanned raids, when air power was called to give support to troops on the ground.

“The US and Nato need to dramatically improve their co-ordination with each other and with the government of Afghanistan,” HRW’s Rachel Reid told the BBC.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned the US and Nato that civilian deaths undermine his government and damage the reputation of foreign forces in the country.

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August 30, 2008

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Gustav strengthens off west Cuba

Hurricane Gustav has strengthened into a “major” category three storm as it nears western Cuba, US forecasters say.

Cuban civil defence forces have been put on alert, and a mass evacuation is under way in low-lying coastal areas, where mudslides and floods are feared.

Gustav has already struck the Dominican Republic, Haiti, Jamaica and the Cayman Islands, killing more than 70 people.

It could become a category four storm over the weekend as it passes over warm waters and heads for the US Gulf Coast.

Predicted route of Hurricane Gustav (29 August 2008)

Cuban authorities have evacuated more than 60,000 people from low-lying coastal areas in Pinar del Rio and Isla de la Juventud before Gustav hits, and have mobilised medical and emergency rescue teams to deal with the possible aftermath.

All buses and trains to and from Havana have also been suspended until further notice.

The Caribbean island has one of the most efficient disaster preparedness and evacuation organisations in the region, but that the poor condition of housing in the capital could pose additional risks in a major storm.

The US Federal Emergency Management Agency has said it expects a “huge number” of residents will be told to leave the region over the weekend.

Gustav’s approach came as New Orleans buried some of the last unidentified victims of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated the city in 2005.

Cuba concern

As of 1000 GMT on Saturday, Gustav had become a “major” category three hurricane with wind speeds of up to 185km/h (115mph) as it passed about 220km (135 miles) south-east of Isla de la Juventud and about 410km (255 miles) east-south-east of the western tip of Cuba, the US National Hurricane Center said.

We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat
Ray Nagin
Mayor of New Orleans

The storm will move away from the Cayman Islands on Saturday morning at about 19km/h (12mph) before passing through western Cuba later in the afternoon and into the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday.

Gustav has already claimed the lives of at least 59 people in Haiti, eight in the Dominican Republic and four in Jamaica, where heavy rains caused flooding and strong winds tore roofs off houses.

There have so far been no reports of any casualties from the Cayman Islands, where storm surge and heavy rains flooded streets overnight.

The government did not impose a curfew, but urged people to remain indoors to avoid interfering with emergency workers.

Gustav’s projected path also takes it over the oil-producing Gulf of Mexico, where workers have been evacuated from several rigs.

Katrina compassion

New Orleans buried the last seven unclaimed bodies of Katrina at a memorial site on Friday as the biggest storm to hit the region since approached.

A memorial service in New Orleans for victims of Hurricane Katrina (29/08/2008)

New Orleans buried the last unclaimed bodies from Katrina on Friday

“We look ahead to a better day, as we also prepare ourselves for another threat,” said Mayor Ray Nagin.

Later, Mr Nagin said an evacuation order was likely, though not before Saturday.

Gustav is forecast to make landfall on the US Gulf Coast anywhere from south Texas to Florida by Tuesday, prompting four states to plan large-scale evacuations.

Emergency officials have warned that a tidal storm surge up to nine metres (30ft) is possible along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.

US President George W Bush has declared a state of emergency in Louisiana and Texas, allowing the federal government to co-ordinate disaster relief and provide assistance in storm-affected areas.

Gustav is the second major hurricane of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season.


Have you been affected by Gustav? Are you preparing for its arrival? Send us your comments and experiences

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