[A-List] Afghanistan: the blowback continues
Michael.Keaney at mbs.fi
Mon Jul 22 02:16:42 MDT 2002
Friendly fire toll blamed on false reports
Innocents are targeted on claims of warlords, writes IAN BRUCE
US bombing mistakes based on faulty intelligence from warlords have killed more than 800 Afghan civilians with no proven links to either the ousted Taliban regime or the Al Qaeda terrorist network, according to the UN and human rights agencies.
Despite a claim by General Tommy Franks, the head of US central command, that the campaign "is the most accurate fought in this nation's history", the Pentagon's insistence on using precision air power rather than ground troops has produced more than 400 admitted "collateral fatalities" since November.
The US military says it does not keep a tally of civilian dead and wounded because of the difficulties of verifying reports and the tradition of burial within hours of death.
It has, however, investigated 11 sites where government officials have complained of strikes on innocent targets, including the controversial strafing of four villages in Oruzgan province last month in which a wedding party was subjected to cannon-fire from a C-130 gunship, killing at least 54.
Pentagon officials have moved from an almost exclusively aerial policy to the risky insertion of special forces teams into suspect areas to allow better verification oflegitimate targets.
Critics claim the US military is too reliant on information from warlords who have brought down air strikes on rivals rather than terrorists or Taliban fighters.
The Afghan government is demanding a say in which targets are hit to try to avoid further "friendly fire" incidents.
Dr Abdullah Abdullah, the foreign minister, said: "We have to be given a larger role. If things do not improve, I will continue to pray for American success, but I will no longer be able to take part in this policy of permitting attacks at will."
Colonel Ray Shepherd, a spokesman for US central command, insisted every precaution was taken before the go-ahead was given to release weapons.
"We painstakingly assess the potential for injuring civilians or damaging civilian facilities, and positively identify targets before striking. But we do want to ensure that co-ordination with Afghan leaders is complete prior to an action," he said.
The higher accuracy of bombs and missiles means there have been fewer "stray weapon" accidents than in previous conflicts. A notable exception was a hit on a mosque last November which killed more than 60 civilians after a bomb aimed at the nearby compound of a senior Taliban leader went wide of its mark.
The UN documented a case of questionable targeting when aircraft struck a suspected arms dump in Niazi Qala on December 29, killing 52 villagers.
Global Exchange, a US aid agency, has compiled a list of 812 Afghan civilian deaths from American airstrikes.
Marla Ruzicka, a field worker, said: "Smart bombs are only as smart as the people directing them. Before bombs are dropped, the military should be 100% certain of who they are bombing."
News of the high toll of Afghan civilians came as a land mine killed 13 passengers on a bus and injured six others in the central province of Bamiyan.
David Sing, of the UN, said villagers had told the driver to take a detour because of the risk of land mines. The UN estimates there are more than 10 million mines left in Afghanistan, which kill and maim dozens of people each month.
In another development, four members of a banned Islamic extremist group, who are suspected of involvement in dozens of religiously motivated killings, have been arrested in Pakistan.
The members of Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, a Sunni Muslim group, had been in hiding since fighting beside the Taliban against US-backed forces in Afghanistan, police said.
Dozens of suspected militants have been detained in connection with last month's car bombing that killed 12 people outside the US consulate in Karachi, and the May 8 suicide bombing outside the Sheraton Hotel in the city, which killed 11 French engineers and three others, including the bomber.
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