US-led strikes kills 64 Afghan civilians
by Samoon Miakhial
Official investigations have found that US-led air strikes a week ago killed 64 people, most of them women and children, the heads of separate investigation teams said Friday.
The US-led coalition has denied killing civilians in the strikes on July 4 and July 6 in remote, mountainous areas near the border with Pakistan but said it was looking into the allegations. It says only militants were killed.
President Hamid Karzai appointed high-level teams to investigate the claims, which have attracted criticism from the United Nations, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Afghan parliament.
The team that looked into Sunday's strike in the remote Deh Bala district of Nangarhar told AFP they were shown the bloodied clothes of women and children killed in the strike that hit a wedding party and turned left buildings into rubble.
"We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the air strikes and another nine were wounded," said the head of the mission, Burhanullah Shinwari.
"They were all civilians and had no links with Taliban or Al-Qaeda," said Shinwari, who is also the deputy speaker of Afghanistan's senate.
Around 10 people were missing and believed to be still under rubble, he said.
Another member of the delegation, Mohammad Asif Shinwari, said there were only three men among the dead and the rest were women and children.
Local officials said earlier the strikes had hit a party of mainly women and children escorting a bride to her groom. The bride was among the dead, they said.
The investigation team was to present its findings to Karzai in days.
A separate investigation into Friday's strike in the northeastern province of Nuristan had found that 17 civilians were killed there, said General Mohammad Amin, a defence ministry official who headed the team.
The coalition has said this hit "several" militants who were fleeing after attacking a base.
"We found that in the bombing 17 people were killed and nine were wounded, Amin said. "They are all civilians."
Afghan authorities said before that the dead included two doctors and two midwives who were leaving the area after the coalition said it was preparing an operation there.
The relatives of some of the victims were paid compensation, Amin said, warning the killings could see a backlash against the government and the international troops helping it to fight an extremist insurgency.
"If the government keeps quiet about these civilian casualties in Nuristan like in the past, it will be bad for the security of the province," he said.
Amin said the findings were due to be presented to Karzai on Saturday.
The coalition said it was investigating the incidents.
"Any loss of civilian life is tragic," said Nielson-Green, a coalition spokeswoman, told AFP. "We never target non-combatants. We do go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties."
Civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire of the insurgency, launched after the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that 250 people were killed or wounded in five days of military action and militant attacks starting July 4, a figure it said it "deplores".
This included in the US-led air strikes and a suicide blast outside the Indian embassy in Kabul on Monday that killed more than 40 people, including two Indian envoys.
The United Nations said last month that nearly 700 civilians had lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.
Photo: Hamid Karzai, president of Afghanistan.
Copyright © 2008 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved.
Update (July 12): Although BBC World featured this story on its newscast yesterday evening, I am still waiting for any of the three major U.S. dailies (LAT, WaPo, NYT) to print anything about it. Perhaps their reporters are investigating as I write?
News Update (July 12): The Washington Post has an important story today about the Army's firing of the public affairs director of Arlington Cemetery, Gina Gray, because she objected to restrictions on media coverage of funerals that were not consistent with Army regulations nor the wishes of military families.