HERAT, Afghanistan - An investigation has found that more than 90
civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in coalition air
strikes days ago, an Afghan government minister told AFP Sunday.
President Hamid Karzai ordered the investigation into Friday’s
operation in the western province of Herat after Afghan officials said
high numbers of civilians were killed but the US-led coalition said
only 30 militants died.
The toll is one of the highest for civilians since international
troops arrived in Afghanistan to topple the hardline Taliban regime in
late 2001 and comes after a string of such incidents, most of them
involving air strikes.
“We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very
heavy, lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90
non-combatants including women, children and elderly people have died,”
the Islamic affairs minister told AFP after his visit to Shindand
district earlier Sunday.
“Most are women and children,” said the minister, Nematullah Shahrani.
Shahrani said his investigation was continuing and he was due to
meet US Special Forces who had been involved in the operation with
Afghan troops and commandos.
“They have claimed that Taliban were there. They must prove it,” the
minister said. “So far, it is not clear for us why the coalition
conducted the air strikes,” he said.
He said his preliminary investigation had also found that there was
no coordination between the Afghan and international troops involved.
Karzai meanwhile issued a decree ordering the “immediate removal” of
the top army general for western Afghanistan and a commando commander
after the “tragic air strike and irresponsible and imprecise military
General Jalandar Shah Behnam, head of the corps for western
Afghanistan, and commando Major Abdul Jabar, were fired for “negligence
and concealing facts,” a statement from Karzai’s office said. The pair
would be interrogated, it added.
The strikes have drawn angry reactions from locals, who demonstrated
on Saturday, torching a police vehicle and brandishing banners reading
“Death to America.”
A council of religious leaders for western Afghanistan demanded on
Sunday the trial of those involved in the deaths and said it would call
a demonstration in Herat on Tuesday.
“Once again the enemies of Islam have stained their hands with the
blood of innocent people … we, the Muslim nation, will not accept their
apologies this time,” it said in a statement.
The strikes, from gunships, were near the Shindand airfield that is used by international forces.
Most of the roughly 15 houses destroyed were those of men who worked
at the airstrip as security guards, district chief La’l Mohammad
Omarzai told AFP.
And many of the dead had gathered to mark the 40th day since the
killing of a militia commander in accordance with Afghan tradition, he
Karzai has regularly appealed to the US- and NATO-led forces to take
more care to avoid civilian casualties amid warnings they are costing
the government and troops the goodwill of the war-weary Afghan people.
In another recent incident, an Afghan investigation found that
around 50 civilians, most of them women, were killed in coalition air
strikes early July when they had gathered for a wedding in the east.
The country’s top rights group, which also has investigators on the
ground in Shindand, says 900 civilians have been killed in insurgent
attacks and military operations against rebels in Afghanistan this year.
“The Afghan government has frequently emphasised not harming
civilians but unfortunately it has not been listened to very well,”
Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission chief executive
director Hossain Ali Ramoz told AFP.
“The concern is that the government and international community will lose the credibility of the Afghan people,” Ramoz told AFP.