NATO Air Strike Kills 11 Afghan Children
A NATO air strike in a remote part of eastern Afghanistan has killed at least 11 children and wounded at least six women.
The Associated Press reports that the deadly air attack occurred during a fierce battle between US-backed Afghan forces and Taliban resistance fighters in the remote Shigal district of Kunar province on Saturday. A joint US-Afghan force was conducting an operation against a Taliban leader in the Shultan area of Shigal when NATO warplanes attacked a house from which militants were reportedly firing.
“In the morning after sunrise, planes appeared in the sky and airstrikes started,” local council chief Gul Pasha told the AP. “I don’t think that they knew that all these children and women were in the house because they were under attack from the house and they were shooting at the house.”
Reports of the number of casualties vary. According to Pasha, the Taliban leader was killed in the house along with a woman and 11 children ages 1-12. The slain civilians were all reportedly related to the targeted militant. Wasifullah Wasify, a spokesman for the provincial government, said 10 children and one woman were killed, with an additional five women injured. The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai placed the death toll at 11 children, with six women wounded. According to the Afghan Interior Ministry, six Taliban fighters were killed in the operation, including senior commanders Ali Khan and Gul Raof.
NATO announced that it had provided air support and killed several insurgents.
“The air support was called in by coalition forces, not Afghan security forces, and was used to engage insurgent forces in areas away from structures, according to our reporting,” NATO spokesman Maj. Adam Wojack said in a statement. Wojack added that NATO takes all claims of civilian casualties seriously and is investigating Saturday’s incident.
President Karzai’s office condemned the deadly strike.
“While the president strongly condemns the Taliban act of using people and their houses as shields, he also strongly condemns any operation on populated areas that results in civilian casualties,” Karzai’s office said in a statement.
The deadly air strike came just two days after another NATO aerial attack killed six Afghan civilians, including four police officers and two children, in eastern Ghazni province. In February, a NATO air strike that killed 10 civilians, most of them women and children, in Kunar province prompted President Karzai to sign a decree prohibiting Afghan forces from calling in NATO strikes in residential areas.
It has been a particularly bloody week in Afghanistan. On Wednesday, suicide bombers disguised as soldiers attacked a courthouse in Farah province, killing at least 46 people in an attempt to free Taliban resistance fighters standing trial. At least five Americans– three soldiers and two civilians, including 25-year-old diplomat Anne Smedinghoff— were killed in an insurgent suicide car bomb attack on Saturday.
The issue of civilian casualties has long strained US-Afghan relations, with Karzai once even threatening to turn on the occupiers or even join the Taliban if the US-led forces did not reduce the number of innocents killed. While such casualties have declined recently, some critics claim the US does not value Afghan life the same as it does American life because the killing of so many innocent men, women and children would not be tolerated if the dead were Americans.
US apologists claim that Taliban fighters operate in close proximity to civilians and point out– correctly– that the vast majority of Afghan civilian deaths are caused by the Taliban and other insurgents.
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