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Afghanistan Concludes 90 Civilians Killed In Coalition Air Strike

Afghan President Hamid Karzai
The head of the Afghan parliament's Defense and Territorial Integrity Committee says faulty intelligence from Afghan officials led to coalition air strikes on August 22 that killed 90 civilians in the western province of Herat.

Mohammad Iqbal Safi told RFE/RL's Radio Free Afghanistan about the allegations of negligence against two senior Afghan military officials who have been sacked as a result of a government investigation.

"Both officials in the region have been dismissed because they transferred incorrect information to the Defense Ministry and the presidential office," Safi said. "They have reported the presence of Pakistani individuals, militants from Chechnya, and Taliban militants, which was not true.”

It was on the recommendation of Afghan investigators that President Hamid Karzai sacked Brigadier General Jalandar Shah, commander of the Afghan National Army's 207 Zafar Military Corps in Herat, and Major Abdul Jabar, leader of commando forces in the same region.

The investigation found that of the 90 civilians killed in the village of Azizabad in the Shindand district of Herat Province, about 60 of them were children or teenagers and 15 were women.

A survivor of the August 22 air strike in Azizabad village in Shindand district of Herat Province told RFE/RL that he lost 11 family members in the bombing.

“The district governor [of Shindand district] has grievances with the residents of Zer Koh [where Azizabad village is located]," the man said. "He gave them wrong information, and they bombed us all and spared nobody.”

Residents Protest

The incident has further inflamed tensions over the issue of civilian deaths in Afghanistan.

Residents of Shindad district protested the bombing on August 23 by refusing government aid and blocking the main Herat to Kandahar highway for a few hours. Villagers in Azizabad threw stones at Afghan soldiers who tried to give them food and clothing. Some reports suggested that eight people were wounded when Afghan soldiers opened fire at protesters in Azizababad.

Afghan officials and human rights activists say the August 22 bombing occurred as villagers in Azizabad had gathered for a memorial ceremony for a local pro-government militia commander who had been killed.

Humayun Hamidzada, a spokesman for Karzai, told RFE/RL on August 23 that the air strike in Azizabad village had been carried out without consultations with Afghan officials. He said the Afghan government condemns the incident and will follow its investigation with concrete actions.

“This incident shows that our demands and the results we want are not being met," Hamidzada said. "The Afghan people and government want that civilians should not be killed or wounded in antiterror operations. But unfortunately, our demands have not been fulfilled. So this forces the Afghan government to undertake measures [to stop civilian casualties]. We will announce such measures soon.”

'Regret The Loss Of Life'

First Lieutenant Nathan Perry, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan, told RFE/RL on August 23 that the United States was not aware of any civilian casualties having occurred in the operation. He said reports indicated that some 30 insurgents, including a known Taliban commander, had been killed in the air strike.

Perry said the operation was led by the Afghan National Army with coalition forces in support.

On August 24, without confirming the reports of 90 deaths, Tony Fratto, a spokesman for U.S. President George W. Bush, said, "We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect. Coalition forces take precautions to prevent the loss of civilians, unlike the Taliban and militants who target civilians and place civilians in harm's way."

Over the past seven years, thousands of Afghan civilians have been killed by insurgent attacks and by coalition and NATO operations against suspected Taliban hideouts. An Afghan investigation found that at least 50 civilians were killed by coalition air strikes in eastern Afghanistan in July.

The Afghan government has long been calling for a comprehensive antiterror strategy that focuses on improving battlefield tactics while taking into account the regional dynamics of the Taliban insurgency.

Karzai has repeatedly demanded an end to Taliban sanctuaries in Pakistan, which he blames for most of the violence in his country.

Ali Ahmed Jalali, a former Afghan interior minister and currently a distinguished professor at the National Defense University in Washington, blames the lack of a unified military strategy for the civilian casualties.

“Such a strategy should coordinate all military and nonmilitary operations and the overall grand strategy," Jalali says. "The Afghan government should be logically conducting such a strategy, but the Afghan government lacks such a strategy. And the Afghan government currently lacks the capacity to carry out such a strategy.”

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    Abubakar Siddique

    Abubakar Siddique, the editor of RFE/RL's Gandhara website, is a journalist specializing in coverage of Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is the author of The Pashtun Question: The Unresolved Key To The Future Of Pakistan And Afghanistan. ​