U.S. officials acknowledge civilian deaths
KABUL, AFGHANISTAN >> A U.S. military investigation into claims of civilian casualties during a joint operation by Afghan and American forces found that 33 civilians were killed and 27 others were wounded during a firefight and airstrikes in Kunduz province last year, U.S. military officials said Thursday.
In early November, Afghan Special Forces, accompanied by U.S. military advisers, came under intense fire during an operation to arrest Taliban commanders in Boz Qandahari, a village in Kunduz, the U.S. military command in Afghanistan said in a statement. They called in U.S. airstrikes, which resulted in some of the civilian casualties.
Two American soldiers and three Afghan commandos were killed in the fighting, and four American soldiers and 11 commandos were wounded, the statement said. “Regardless of the circumstances, I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives,” said Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan. “On this occasion the Taliban chose to hide amongst civilians and then attacked Afghan and U.S. forces.”
“I wish to assure President Ghani and the people of Afghanistan that we will take all possible measures to protect Afghan civilians,” he added, referring to Ashraf Ghani.
After the battle in Kunduz, a New York Times reporter counted 22 bodies being brought into the city on the way to the hospital there. Among them were 14 children, four women, two older men and two men of fighting age. They were accompanied by a large group of protesters from Boz Qandahari, the village that was hit. Residents of Boz Qandahari, however, said the investigation underestimated the number of civilians killed and that the claim of Taliban firing at the forces from their homes was not true.
“My father was a shopkeeper — he had a grocery shop close to our house. My brother and I were farmers. We had never had a weapon. I and no one in my family knows how to use a weapon,” said Mohammed Reza, 29, who lost seven family members in the bombing and was stuck in the rubble of their house for hours. “I lost my father, my brother, my brother’s wife, my son and three of my nephews, who were between 1 and 7 years old.”
Dad Mohammed, 45, said he was aware of at least 37 killed among his relatives. Kunduz is also where a U.S. military gunship mistakenly targeted a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in October 2015, killing at least 42 people and destroying much of the hospital.