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 20, 2008

Sarkozy renews Afghan commitment

Sarkozy renews Afghan commitment

President Sarkozy with President Karzai at the presidential palace in kabul

The French president insisted that France was committed to Afghanistan

President Sarkozy has pledged France’s continued commitment to Afghanistan after visiting French troops and meeting President Hamid Karzai.

He was speaking in Kabul after French troops suffered some of their worst casualties in recent times.

Ten French soldiers were killed and 21 injured in an ambush by Taleban fighters east of the capital, Kabul.

Mr Sarkozy said France was committed to the fight against terrorism, and  the mission in Afghanistan would continue.

‘Indispensable’

“Even though the toll is so high, you should be proud of what you are doing. The work that you’re doing here is indispensable,” Mr Sarkozy told his troops.

“We’re going to make sure that the means are put in place to ensure that this doesn’t happen again.” France has 2,600 troops serving in Afghanistan.

The 10 deaths brought to 24 the number of French troops killed in Afghanistan since 2002, the AFP news agency reports.

There was more violence on Afghanistan on Wednesday. A bomb went off in a busy market in the south-eastern province of Khost.

Officials say that in addition about 19 Taliban fighters were killed in two separate clashes in Khost and in the province of Paktia.

Tributes paid

The loss of life is thought to be the heaviest suffered by the French military since 58 paratroopers were killed in Beirut in 1983.

The arrival of Mr Sarkozy, who was accompanied by French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and Defense Minister Herve Morin, was marked by a flurry of helicopters across Kabul on Wednesday.

The cause is just, it is the honour of France and its armies to defend it
Nicolas Sarkozy
French president

On a brief visit on Wednesday, he saw the mortuary at the French camp in the capital and spoke to injured soldiers who were involved in the battle. He also held talks with President Hamid Karzai.

His message was one of support not just to the troops, but also to the Nato alliance and Mr Karzai.

The French deployment is not popular at home and the decision was made in April to send extra fighting troops to an even more dangerous part of the country, our correspondent adds.

Ambush

The French troops were caught up in fighting that started on Monday in the area of Sarobi, some 50km (30 miles) from Kabul.

French troops in Afghanistan (archive image from 2006)

Mr Sarkozy said the troops were killed in “an ambush of extreme violence”

French defence officials said about 100 soldiers – from France, the US and Afghanistan – were on a reconnaissance mission when bad road conditions forced them to stop their vehicles.

A group of French soldiers was sent ahead on foot to check the terrain, but they were ambushed by Taleban fighters and nine were killed.

A tenth French soldier was killed when his vehicle overturned on the road.

An Afghan intelligence officer told the BBC the troops were ambushed from several directions by heavily armed Taleban and al-Qaeda forces.

The fighting went on for 24 hours and it is understood that reinforcements had to be called in to airlift the troops to safety.

The deaths came amid warnings that insurgents are closing in on Kabul.

The French recently took over control of the Kabul regional command, which includes Sarobi.

ISAF REGIONAL COMMANDS AND TROOP NUMBERS
Map showing foreign troop deployments in Afghanistan

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