U.S.: Afghan bat­tle killed 33 civil­ians

Mil­i­tary re­port ex­presses re­gret but says Tal­iban used in­no­cent as shields

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - RAHIM FAIEZ In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was contributed by Jon Gam­brell of The Associated Press and by Sayed Salahud­din and Erin Cun­ning­ham of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. mil­i­tary in Afghanistan said Thurs­day that its in­ves­ti­ga­tion into a Novem­ber fire­fight with the Tal­iban in north­ern Kun­duz prov­ince has shown that 33 civil­ians died in the raid dur­ing which U.S. troops fired on Afghan homes.

The in­quiry fol­lowed claims that civil­ian deaths re­sulted from airstrikes called in to sup­port Afghan and U.S. forces who came un­der fire in the prov­ince’s vil­lage of Buz-e Kan­da­hari in an op­er­a­tion that tar­geted two se­nior Tal­iban com­man­ders.

The two Tal­iban fig­ures, re­spon­si­ble for vi­o­lence in Kun­duz the pre­vi­ous month, were killed in the op­er­a­tion.

Ac­cord­ing to a U.S. mil­i­tary state­ment, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion “de­ter­mined, re­gret­fully, that 33 civil­ians were killed and 27 wounded” as troops re­sponded to fire from “Tal­iban who were us­ing civil­ian houses as fir­ing po­si­tions.”

Af­ter the raid, Kun­duz res­i­dents car­ried over a dozen corpses of the dead, in­clud­ing chil­dren and fam­ily mem­bers of the Tal­iban fight­ers, to­ward a gov­er­nor’s of­fice in a show of rage.

“Re­gard­less of the cir­cum­stances, I deeply re­gret the loss of in­no­cent lives,” the state­ment read, quot­ing Gen. John Ni­chol­son, 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 [Ashraf] Ghani and the peo­ple of Afghanistan that we will take all pos­si­ble mea­sures to pro­tect Afghan civil­ians,” Ni­chol­son added. “We will con­tinue to as­sist the Afghan se­cu­rity forces in their ef­forts to de­fend their coun­try.”

A Kun­duz of­fi­cial said the Afghan civil­ian death toll was higher than the 33 deaths re­ported by U.S. in­ves­ti­ga­tors.

“More than 50 peo­ple, in­clud­ing women and chil­dren, were killed in the Afghan and U.S. forces’ at­tack in Buz-e Kan­da­hari,” said To­ryalia Kakar, a deputy provin­cial coun­cil mem­ber.

Kakar urged the United States to com­pen­sate the vic­tims’ fam­i­lies, who he said not only lost their loved ones but also saw their homes and property de­stroyed in the airstrikes.

Al­lah Dad, 70, lost 20 mem­bers of his ex­tended fam­ily, in­clud­ing grand­chil­dren, in the bat­tle. A spokesman for the Kun­duz gov­er­nor con­firmed Dad’s ac­count.

“I was away that night — only a few [fam­ily mem­bers] sur­vived,” Dad said.

“No one has come to help us,” he said, adding that he be­lieves that U.S. and Afghan troops should stand trial for the raid.

The Tal­iban briefly over­ran the city of Kun­duz, the provin­cial cap­i­tal with the same name, in Oc­to­ber 2015, in a show of strength by the in­sur­gents that also high­lighted the trou­bles fac­ing lo­cal Afghan forces, 15 years af­ter the U.S.-led in­va­sion of the coun­try. The Tal­iban cap­tured and held parts of Kun­duz a year ear­lier as well, be­fore the city was fully lib­er­ated weeks later with the help of U.S. airstrikes.

In the 2015 op­er­a­tion, a U.S. Air Force spe­cial oper­a­tions AC-130 gun­ship at­tacked a Kun­duz hos­pi­tal run by the med­i­cal char­ity Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, killing 42 peo­ple. Six­teen U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel, in­clud­ing a two-star general, later were dis­ci­plined for what U.S. of­fi­cials de­scribed as mis­takes that led to the strike. Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders has called the at­tack a war crime and de­manded an in­de­pen­dent in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Af­ter the fire­fight last Novem­ber, Ghani crit­i­cized the Tal­iban for us­ing women and chil­dren as “a shield” dur­ing the raid in Buz-e Kan­da­hari. He also an­nounced that a lo­cal in­ves­ti­ga­tion was un­der­way.

The U.S. mil­i­tary state­ment said its in­ves­ti­ga­tion “con­cluded that U.S. forces acted in self-de­fense” in the joint Afghan-Amer­i­can raid in the vil­lage.

“As an in­di­ca­tion of the fe­roc­ity of the fire faced by friendly forces from the Tal­iban-oc­cu­pied houses, two U.S. sol­diers and three Afghan Army Com­man­dos were killed,” it said. “In ad­di­tion, four U.S. sol­diers and 11 com­man­dos were wounded.”

The raid also killed 26 Tal­iban fight­ers and wounded about 26 other in­sur­gents, the U.S. mil­i­tary re­port said.

How­ever, Kakar dis­puted that death toll, say­ing not more than 10 Tal­iban fight­ers died.

The in­ves­ti­ga­tion con­cluded that U.S. air as­sets used the min­i­mum amount of force re­quired and that the civil­ians who were wounded or killed were likely in­side the build­ings from which the Tal­iban were fir­ing. In ad­di­tion, the U.S. mil­i­tary said a Tal­iban am­mu­ni­tion cache was struck and ex­ploded, which also de­stroyed mul­ti­ple civil­ian build­ings and may also have killed civil­ians.

“It has been de­ter­mined that no fur­ther ac­tion will be taken be­cause U.S. forces acted in self-de­fense and fol­lowed all ap­pli­ca­ble law and pol­icy,” the state­ment con­cluded.

NATO’s com­bat oper­a­tions ended in Afghanistan at the end of 2014, a move that put Afghan forces in charge of the coun­try’s se­cu­rity. Since then, Afghan forces have suf­fered heavy ca­su­al­ties bat­tling the Tal­iban, who have tried to ex­pand their foot­print across much of the coun­try. NATO and U.S. ca­su­al­ties have been few.

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