A joint U.S.-Afghan investigation has found that
civilians were killed several days ago in airstrikes against Taliban
forces. Officials are still trying to determine how many civilians were
among the dead, but they said there are indications that Taliban
fighters tried to encourage civilian deaths by forcing villagers into
the battle zone.
Civilian casualties involving foreign
troops in Afghanistan are the most contentious issue straining
relations between the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO forces.
latest incident occurred late Monday and early Tuesday in southern
Farah province, when the governor called in pro-government troops to
repel Taliban fighters who had been harassing locals and firing at
police. A joint Afghan and U.S. patrol battled with the militants for
several hours in two villages before calling for airstrikes. Hours
later, local villagers and officials said the counterattack killed more
than 100 civilians.
The U.S. military on Saturday conceded
that some civilians were among the dead, but said their exact number
remains unclear. Tech Sergeant Chuck Marsh says investigators believe
some villagers may have been held against their will by Taliban
fighters hoping to increase civilian casualties.
investigation suggests that villagers had taken refuge in a number of
houses in each village," he said. "Reports also indicate that Taliban
fighters deliberately forced villagers into houses from which they then
attacked ANSF and Coalition forces."
U.S. officials have said
for months that Taliban fighters are acutely aware of the public anger
that civilian casualties cause and actively seek to encourage such
deaths to increase opposition to international troops and the
U.S.-backed Afghan government. Tech Sergeant Marsh says there are
indications that the Taliban actively worked to publicize the deaths
from the latest attack.
"Following the fighting, Afghan
officials also confirmed the Taliban fighters loaded two trucks with
bodies and forced elders to parade them through villages to incite
outrage among villagers," he said.
The joint U.S. and Afghan
investigation team said that after visiting three grave sites with
multiple dead buried at each one, investigators were unable to
determine which of those casualties were Taliban fighters and which
were non-combatants. Investigators said all of those killed had been
buried by the time they arrived.
A military statement
describing the initial results of the investigation condemned Taliban
militants for deliberately targeting Afghan civilians and using them as
human shields. The statement said additional information will be
released after the investigation has been completed.
visiting Washington this past week, President Hamid Karzai repeatedly
raised the issue of Afghan civilian casualties from foreign troops and
called for a change in procedures to end such incidents. Mr. Karzai has
said he wants Afghan troops to take the lead role in searching homes
and have international troops focus on providing security for civilians.