US rejects UN report on Afghan attack
Says 5 civilians killed, not scores
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - US military officials flatly rejected yesterday assertions from the United Nations and Afghan government that a US air strike in western Afghanistan two weeks ago killed up to 90 Afghan civilians, saying that a complete investigation into the attack found that five civilians were killed.
A review of video footage, photos, and an analysis of burial sites following the strike in Azizabad village in Herat Province in the early morning hours of Aug. 22 found that 30 to 35 Taliban insurgents and five civilian relatives of a Taliban commander died in the attack, according to a summary of the findings released yesterday evening. Two other civilians were injured, it said.
Interviews with 30 American and Afghan participants in the military operation further reinforced US assertions that casualties from the strike were considerably lower than those suggested by eyewitnesses, the summary said.
Faced with mounting public anger over civilian casualties, President Hamid Karzai has become increasingly critical of coalition air strikes in recent months. With casualties among foreign troops also hitting record highs following a Taliban resurgence, the criticism from both Karzai's government and the public comes at a pivotal time for the US mission in Afghanistan.
Days after the attack in Azizabad, Karzai's government called for a review of NATO and US military conduct in the field and demanded a formal mutual agreement that spells out US and NATO responsibilities in Afghanistan.
Lieutenant Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, said the new report's conclusions would be given to NATO officials who last week called for a joint inquiry by US, UN, and Afghan officials. "This is more than just a statement. This is forensic evidence, so we're going to pass it on as part of the joint investigation," Perry said.
The US findings were released about a week after UN officials in Afghanistan said their own inquiry had found "convincing evidence" that scores of civilians - many of them women and children - were killed in the air strike on Azizabad. UN officials remain steadfast in their belief that the bombing raid was the deadliest US military action in Afghanistan since the war began in 2001.
A high-ranking Afghan Army officer who was fired early last week by Karzai after controversy over the bombing erupted concurred with US findings that US and Afghan forces called in the air strike after taking heavy fire from Taliban insurgents in the village Aug. 22.
But the officer, Afghan National Army General Jalandar Shah Behnam, said there were signs that the Afghan and US soldiers were confused about their target when the operation began. He said coalition forces had received misinformation about who was inside the compound.
He echoed reports that up to 60 children, 19 women, and more than a dozen men in the village of about 1,200 people were killed.