Civilian death scam appears to resurface in Kabul

NY Times:

Afghan officials said Monday that 52 people were killed in southern Afghanistan on Friday when a rocket fired by coalition forces slammed into a house where women and children had taken shelter from fighting between NATO troops and militants. But American officials disputed the account.

If founded, it would be one of the worst cases of civilian casualties in the nine-year war, coming as a leak of thousands of military documents on Sunday casts new scrutiny on whether American and coalition forces have taken enough care to avoid civilian deaths, and whether all of them have been reported by the military.

The Afghan government said its information about the reported attack, which took place in the Sangin district of Helmand Province came from its own intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.

But late Monday, the American-led military command in Kabul said that an investigation it was conducting with Afghan officials “has thus far revealed no evidence of civilians injured or killed.” But it was not immediately clear whether the NATO investigative team had yet reached the scene.

Interviewed by telephone, witnesses from the area where the attack was supposed to have taken place said that on Friday an American military force engaged Taliban militants in an intense firefight in two remote villages. Taliban fighters warned residents to leave. Many fled to Rigi, a remote village with only a half-dozen homes.

Women and children from about eight families were packed into one home, while many of the men took shelter in the forest around the village, they said. About 4:30 p.m. they heard the first of two powerful explosions that blanketed Rigi in smoke as military aircraft flew overhead, the villagers said.

One resident, Mohammed Usman, 57, said he helped pull the bodies of 17 children and 7 women from the rubble. “They have ruined us, and they have killed small children and innocent women,” he said. “God will never forgive them.”

Another resident, Abdul Samad, said: “They targeted an area which we believed was safer, but in one hit they killed over 50 people. Most of them were children and women, and I have lost my relatives as well.”


NATO military officials said accounts of an attack were far from proved.

“Any speculation at this point of an alleged civilian casualty in Rigi village is completely unfounded,” said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, director of communications for the American and NATO military coalition. “We are conducting a thorough joint investigation with our Afghan partners and will report any and all findings when known.”

Another military spokesman, Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, added, “If the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has something that has been determined by means other than the joint Afghan/NATO investigation, we are unaware of it.”

A senior American military official also said there was frustration over Mr. Karzai’s decision to issue the statement without coordination with NATO officials. “It’s not helpful to the relationship,” the official said.

In another skirmish six miles away, NATO said in a statement, attack helicopters had fired “precision-guided missiles” at insurgents who had attacked troops with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. The missiles “struck the intended target,” NATO said, killing six insurgents, including a Taliban commander.

Initially, Afghan officials in Helmand said they were unaware of any attack. But on Monday, Daoud Ahmadi, the provincial governor’s spokesman, said officials had confirmed that the attack killed women and children, but he said he did not know how many.

The Taliban have been very effective at spreading this kind of propaganda and the government in Kabul has been far to quick to agree with them. It is why it is important for US units in contact with the enemy to take control of sites where the enemy has been attacked in order to prevent this kind of propaganda attack. If civilians were killed it could have been deliberately done by the Taliban in order to create the PR offensive.


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