Afghan Official: US Drone Strike Kills 13 Civilians
At least 13 civilians were killed in a US drone strike targeting Islamic State militants in eastern Nangarhar province, an Afghan government official said on Wednesday, although a local police chief said the civilian death toll was much lower.
Al Jazeera reports Esmatullah Shinwari, a Nangarhar politician, said a crowd had gathered at a home in Achin district to welcome home a tribal leader returning from Hajj, the annual Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia when the strike occurred. Shinwari said at least six fighters loyal to Islamic State were also killed in the air strike. Another 12 people were reportedly wounded in the attack. Achin Police Chief Mohammad Ali told Agence France-Presse that three civilians and 15 fighters were killed in the attack. A provincial police spokesman said the dead Islamic State fighters included a commander.
“The bombing happened at 3.00 am and I was asleep, I did not know what happened, I just heard a big blast,” wounded survivor Hafizullah Khan told EuroNews.
Brigadier General Charles Cleveland, the spokesman for the US military in Afghanistan, confirmed a “counterterrorism air strike in Achin district” occurred early on Wednesday and that the military is investigating reports of civilian casualties. “We… are currently reviewing all materials related to this strike,” Cleveland said in a statement. “US Forces-Afghanistan takes all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.”
Achin, which is located near the border with Pakistan, has been an Islamic State stronghold since the Afghan branch of the fundamentalist militant group emerged in 2014. US-led coalition and Afghan military operations — including air strikes — regularly target the area.
While the vast majority of the more than 31,000 civilian deaths during the 15-year-long US-led war in Afghanistan — the longest war in American history — have been caused by enemy forces, US-led coalition forces have killed thousands of innocent Afghan civilians. Civilian casualties have long been a point of contention between the US and Afghan governments and a catalyst for anti-American sentiment and militancy among the Afghan people. In 2014, the European Parliament voted overwhelmingly to condemn what it called America’s “illegal” drone strikes.
“Drone strike policies have been documented as causing considerable harm to the daily lives of ordinary citizens in the countries concerned, including deep anxiety and psychological trauma, disruption of economic and social activities and reduced access to education among affected communities,” a European Parliament resolution stated.
The Obama administration has defended its use of drones, which it says are “necessary and just” and an invaluable weapon in the war against terrorism. In Obama’s widened war, the use of drones has increased dramatically over Bush administration levels. In 2012, Obama falsely claimed that “drones have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties,” and John Brennan, his CIA director, also falsely claimed that there had been no civilians killed by drones in the past year. The London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism says as many as 143 civilians, including as many as 21 children, have been killed by US air strikes involving drones alone.
It is estimated that as many as 1.3 million people have died in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan since the US initiated its war against terrorism in October 2001. Over the past half century, the United States military has killed more foreign civilians than any other nation’s forces.