Civilian toll appears high in Afghan raid
To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: More than 90 civilians, mostly women and children...
The New York Times
AZIZABAD, Afghanistan — To the villagers here, there is no doubt what happened in an American airstrike on Aug. 22: More than 90 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed.
The Afghan government, human-rights and intelligence officials, independent witnesses and a U.N. investigation back up their account, pointing to dozens of freshly dug graves, lists of the dead and cellphone videos and other images showing bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque.
Cellphone images appear to show at least 11 dead children, some with blast and concussion injuries, among some 30 to 40 bodies laid out in the village mosque. The U.N. pointed to evidence it considered conclusive that about 90 civilians were killed, some 75 of them women and children.
For two weeks, the U.S. military has insisted that only five to seven civilians, and 30 to 35 militants, were killed in what it says was a successful operation against the Taliban: a Special Operations ground mission backed up by American air support.
But on Sunday, Gen. David D. McKiernan, the senior U.S. commander in Afghanistan, requested that a general be sent from Central Command to review the U.S. military probe in light of "emerging evidence."
The repeated cases of civilian casualties over the last six years has threatened to erode Afghans' tolerance for the presence of foreign forces in Afghanistan.
President Hamid Karzai visited Azizabad on Thursday to pay his respects to the mourners, condemning the strikes, and vowing to arrest an Afghan he says misled U.S. forces with false intelligence.
Villagers and officials have said the operation was based on faulty information provided by a rival of a villager named Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack. Ahmad Nader Nadery, spokesman for Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, has said Reza had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport.
Aziz Ahmad Nadem, a member of parliament from Herat, told The Associated Press that the rival is now being protected by the U.S. military.
Afghan officials say U.S. Special Forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader.
A visitor to the village and to three graveyards within its limits on Aug. 31 counted 42 freshly dug graves. An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village said he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike.
The U.S. military, in a series of statements about the operation, has accused the villagers of spreading Taliban propaganda. Speaking on condition that their names not be used, some military officials have suggested that the villagers fabricated such evidence as grave sites.
The Afghan government is demanding changes in the accords defining the U.S. military engagement in Afghanistan, in particular ending American military raids on villages and halting the detention of citizens.
In a related development, a new report by Human Rights Watch to be released today claims a small number of ground forces and "overwhelming" air power have become war doctrine for the United States in Afghanistan.
"I assure you that civilians are never targeted, and that our forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties," said Capt. Scott A. Miller, a U.S. military spokesman.
Two suicide bombers succeeded in penetrating the police headquarters building in Kandahar on Sunday, killing two policemen and wounding 29 officers and eight civilians. A Taliban spokesman immediately claimed responsibility.
Information from The Associated Press is included in this report.
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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