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Civilian Death Toll Continues to Rise by Heightened U.S. Air Strikes in Afghanistan
In at least five separate incidents during July alone, U.S.-led NATO forces have killed as many as 132 civilians in Afghanistan. The worst of the five attacks took place in the Deh Bala district of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where a U.S. air strike killed 47 civilians on July 6. Another air strike killed up to 22 Afghani civilians two days before the Deh Bala attack on July 4, when missiles from U.S. helicopters struck civilians in Kunar, which is also located in eastern Afghanistan. 9 more Afghani civilians were killed in the province of Farah on July 15. In a fourth civilian killing, up to 50 civilians died with at least 7 more wounded in the western province of Heart. The fifth and most recent attack occurred on July 20th, where at least 4 Afghani civilians were killed.
In at least five separate incidents during July alone, U.S.-led NATO forces have killed as many as 132 civilians in Afghanistan. The latest attacks come at the heels of a trip to the Bagram and Jalalabad air bases by the leading Presidential contender, Senator Barak Obama (D-IL), in which he reiterated his long-held policy plans to increase the U.S. troop presence in the country by up to 10,000 more soldiers. "This is a war we have to win," proclaimed Obama, during his highly publicized and ongoing international trip.
The presumptive Republican nominee for President, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), has also proposed troop increases in Afghanistan by pledging at least three more brigades to the already 34,000 U.S. troops. Roughly half of the total number of foreign troops are currently comprised by U.S. soldiers who are occupying the country. Since neither candidate has any plans or proposals for an immediate or phased-in withdrawal from the country, it is probable that without anti-war resistance in the U.S. and abroad, the U.S.-led occupation will continue through the next term of the Presidency until 2013.
The flurry of air strikes are part of a planned and ongoing offensive that has resulted in at least one official investigation that was called for by Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, a strong supporter and ally of the Bush administration, who also met with Senator Obama during his visit this past weekend. Democracy Now! reported that the latest air offensive is the most intense seen in Afghanistan since 2003. U.S.-led forces have occupied the beleaguered, oil-rich nation since 2001.
Air Strike in Deh Bala Kills 47
The worst of the five attacks took place in the Deh Bala district of the Nangarhar province in eastern Afghanistan, where a U.S. air strike killed 47 civilians on July 6.
A group of women and children were traveling on their way to a wedding when they were bombarded and killed, according to the Governor of Nangarhar, Hamisha Gul, as well as other local officials. The Afghani officials also claimed that 39 of the 47 civilians who perished were women or children. Dr. Ajmal Pardis of the province’s capital in Jalalabad was also quoted as having received several women as wounded patients from the air strike on Deh Bala.
U.S. military officials have taken no responsibility for the strike on Deh Bala’s civilians and have stated that they were targeting and successfully hit a large contingent of Taliban fighters. President Karzai ordered an immediate investigation, including the arrangement for compensation to all families who lost a relative to the attack, according to an Afghanistan-based and non-corporate news service called Pajhwok Afghan News (PAN). Burhanullah Shinwari, the deputy chairman of the Senate and the head of the Karzai-appointed commission investigating the attack, confirmed what local officials initially reported. Those killed in the July 6th attack were civilians traveling to a wedding. It was only after this finding that U.S. coalition spokesman 1st Lt. Nathan Perry finally stated "any loss of innocent life is tragic." However, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) continues to maintain that those killed were guerillas and is currently investigating the claims further .
Senator Shinwari, however, was obstinate in his refusal to accept U.S. military claims regarding the presence of fighters. He told the London-based Independent that, "there aren't any Taliban or al-Qa'ida even several kilometers near to where the air strike took place."
Other U.S. Air Strikes Kill up to 85 Civilians
Only two days before the Deh Bala strike, and while U.S. citizens were celebrating their independence day, yet another air strike had already killed up to 22 Afghani civilians. Missiles from U.S. helicopters struck civilians in an attack on Kunar, which is located in eastern Afghanistan.
"An independent commission should come," Governor Tamim Nuristani of the Nuristan province told Al Jazeera. "Human rights lawyers and coalition force lawyers should investigate this ... And civilians should be heard in the investigation. A severe penalty should be given out to those who did this," he said.
The weekend July 4th and 6th air attacks prompted the Red Cross to release a statement that attracted nearly no attention from the U.S. news media. On July 9th, Red Cross delegation head Franz Rauchenstein wrote from Kabul that, "Civilians must never be the target of an attack, unless they take a direct part in the fighting. These fundamental requirements of international humanitarian law, also known as the laws and customs of war, are binding on all parties to an armed conflict." Rauchenstein went on to explain that air strikes have left scores of civilians either dead or wounded, including several who had to undergo surgery at a Red Cross supported, public hospital in Jalalabad.
Less than a week following the Red Cross’s urgings, however, 8 more Afghani civilians were killed in the province of Farah on July 15. Unlike the July 4th fatal attack on civilians, U.S.-led coalition spokespeople admitted to the civilian fatalities from the outset, according to the PAN. However, the claim that U.S. troops were under fire by militants before having killed the Afghani civilians was disputed by Afghan officials cited in the PAN news report. The same officials also claimed it was 9, not 8 civilians who were shot and killed, and that all who died hailed from the same family.
In a fourth civilian killing, up to 50 civilians died with at least 7 more wounded in the western province of Herat, according to local witnesses. The attacks took places in the villages of Farmakan and Bakhtabad which are located in the Shindand district. Mullah Lal Muhammad, the district chief, confirmed along with a tribal elder, the local witness reports.
The most recent U.S. attack that resulted in civilian fatalities was committed last Saturday. On July 20th, at least 4 Afghani civilians were killed, which NATO has admitted to having done "accidentally" . That attack was followed up by another incident the following day in which friendly fire killed 9 Afghani police officers who were mistaken as militants, which NATO also acknowledged.
Afghani Civilian Death Toll Continues to Rise
The exact amount of civilians that have died during the seven years that U.S.-led NATO forces have occupied Afghanistan is not exactly known. As a research associate from the Center for Defense Information explained in Counterpunch last year, there has not been any institution that has tracked the count from the start of the occupation. Only in the last few years have any real estimates just begun to be released.
In one oft-cited estimate, U.N. official John Holmes, the United Nations undersecretary-general for humanitarian affairs, stated that almost 700 civilians had been killed in 2008 alone . In 2007, U.S.-led NATO forces were responsible for most civilian deaths, but in 2008 they have been responsible for under half of such fatalities. Even in the case of the latter, however, the total still adds up to about 250 civilians (a figure NATO disputes).
The increased death toll is widely agreed to have been fueling additional opposition in terms of Afghani public opinion against continued occupation by foreign troops, as reported on by local Afghani press coverage. It is well understood, especially by the Afghani press, that Afghanistan has long been subject to foreign military interventions and is thus quite weary of continued foreign military presence in their war-torn country.
In terms of U.S. troop casualties, numbers begin to mount as well. In May and June of this year alone, approximately 69 U.S. and NATO soldiers were killed in Afghanistan, a number that surpassed the death toll of U.S.-led coalition troops killed in Iraq during the same time period.