At least 10 dead in Amer­i­can airstrikes in Afghanistan

Santa Fe New Mexican - - NATION & WORLD - By David Zucchino and Taimoor Shah New York Times

KABUL — At least 10 civil­ians were killed and sev­eral oth­ers were wounded over the week­end dur­ing U.S. airstrikes in south­ern Afghanistan, lo­cal of­fi­cials and res­i­dents in Hel­mand province said Sun­day.

Two res­i­dents of the San­gin dis­trict of Hel­mand said eight mem­bers of a sin­gle fam­ily were killed by airstrikes in one house and two more in a nearby struc­ture, among them women and chil­dren. Mo­ham­mad Hasim Alokozai, a mem­ber of par­lia­ment from Hel­mand, put the death toll higher, say­ing in an in­ter­view that 14 civil­ians were killed and six wounded in the two houses.

A lo­cal res­i­dent, As­lam Khan, said the home of his brother, Assti Khan, in the San­gin dis­trict, was fired upon by a he­li­copter when he switched on a flash­light to find his shoes. The shots killed Assti Khan’s 10-year-old son and 3-year-old daugh­ter and wounded his wife and 18-year-old daugh­ter, his brother said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

Sgt. 1st Class De­bra Richard­son, a U.S. mil­i­tary spokes­woman in Kabul, said that U.S. air­craft had con­ducted airstrikes in the province late Fri­day night and early Satur­day morn­ing, but she could not con­firm or deny that civil­ians had been killed. She said mil­i­tary of­fi­cials were look­ing into the episode.

A San­gin res­i­dent, Haji Mo­ham­mad Da­woud, said Tal­iban fight­ers had fired from a build­ing next to the home of a lo­cal man, Nader Shah, whose eight fam­ily mem­bers were said to have died.

Richard­son said a joint team of Afghan and Amer­i­can com­man­dos had con­ducted an op­er­a­tion tar­get­ing a Tal­iban op­er­a­tions cen­ter in San­gin, an in­sur­gent strong­hold. She said airstrikes were called in af­ter a Tal­iban in­sur­gent fired at Afghan and Amer­i­can forces from a struc­ture in a civil­ian area.

Richard­son said she could not pro­vide the num­ber of troops in the op­er­a­tion or the type of air­craft in­volved.

A state­ment is­sued by the Hel­mand province me­dia of­fice said four civil­ians were killed and two wounded in an airstrike. The state­ment said the airstrike tar­geted Tal­iban in­sur­gents fir­ing from a house.

Aziz Ah­mad Az­izi, a spokesman for the gover­nor of ad­ja­cent Kan­da­har province, said 25 Tal­iban fight­ers were killed and 10 cap­tured dur­ing the op­er­a­tion. Az­izi said he could not con­firm re­ports of civil­ian deaths or in­juries.

Civil­ian ca­su­al­ties have dogged the U.S. mil­i­tary ef­fort for much of the 18 year war. U.S. com­man­ders say they fol­low strict pro­ce­dures to try to en­sure no civil­ians are present be­fore airstrikes are au­tho­rized and ac­cuse in­sur­gents of us­ing civil­ians as shields.

But hu­man rights groups say U.S. and Afghan govern­ment forces are not al­ways rig­or­ous in try­ing to avoid civil­ian ca­su­al­ties and do not al­ways con­duct thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tions af­ter at­tacks. In re­cent months, more civil­ians have been in harm’s way as the U.S. mil­i­tary has ramped up at­tacks against Tal­iban in­sur­gents, part of an ef­fort to give U.S. ne­go­tia­tors lever­age in peace talks with the Tal­iban.

Amer­i­can and Afghan com­man­dos more than dou­bled the num­ber of joint raids con­ducted from Septem­ber to early Fe­bru­ary, com­pared with the same five-month pe­riod a year ear­lier. Last year, U.S. air­craft dropped 7,632 bombs, mis­siles and other mu­ni­tions in Afghanistan, up from 4,361 in 2017 and 1,337 the year be­fore.

The most re­cent United Na­tions re­port said civil­ian deaths from airstrikes rose 39 per­cent dur­ing the first nine months of 2018 com­pared with the same pe­riod the year be­fore.

The U.N. at­trib­uted 51 per­cent of airstrike ca­su­al­ties to U.S. air­craft and 38 per­cent to Afghan mil­i­tary air­craft. Re­spon­si­bil­ity for the re­main­der could not be de­ter­mined.

Ac­cord­ing to the U.N., 65 per­cent of all civil­ian ca­su­al­ties were at­trib­uted to in­sur­gents.

Res­i­dents said they were fright­ened and dis­ori­ented af­ter be­ing awak­ened by the sounds of he­li­copters and gun­fire.

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