NATO has alienated the Afghan people by excessive reliance on air strikes that have caused high civilian casualties

Whoosh!  Boom!  Ha, ha!  We killed loads of insurgents!  Oh, weren’t they?  We’ll have a full inquiry.  Ooh, look, here’s some more!  Whoosh!  Boom!

I started putting together a list of the most serious incidents in Afghanistan where coalition forces have targeted and killed civilians.  I still have about a score of tabs open in my browser each listing different incidents.  This is some of the highlights lowlights.

July 2008: A US air strike killed 47 civilians, including 39 women and children, as they were travelling to a wedding in Afghanistan, an official inquiry found today. The bride was among the dead.  The US military initially denied any civilians had been killed.

2008: The Red Cross said 250 people had been killed or wounded in five days of military action and militant attacks in the past week.  The UN said that nearly 700 Afghan civilians had lost their lives in 2008 – about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.

September 2009: NATO airstrikes kill villagers syphoning fuel from two abandoned petrol tankers.  NATO’s International Security and Assistance Force discounted reports that civilians were among the dead.  “After assessing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered an air strike, which destroyed the fuel trucks, and a large number of insurgents were reportedly killed and injured.”  Whoopsie – made up fibs.  “90 people were dead, but that number included senior Taliban militants.”  Whoopsie, more fibs.  “Local people are telling me 130 people have been killed.”  And finally, “NATO missiles wiped out much of the village of Omar Kheil.”  Whoopsie indeed.

May 2011: Two homes were bombed supposedly being used as a base, killing 14 civilians, including up to 12 children.  NATO later apologies for calling in an airstrike on “a residential compound”.

2012: The UN mission in Afghanistan said 83 civilians were killed and 46 wounded in aerial attacks by international military forces in the first half of 2012.

June 2012:   The US-led military coalition says it will only use airstrikes as a self-defence weapon of last resort for troops and would avoid hitting structures that could house civilians.  That followed a bombardment that killed 18 civilians celebrating a wedding in eastern Logar province, which drew an apology from the American commander.

February 2013: The number of civilian casualties blamed on allied forces decreased by 46 percent, with 316 killed and 271 wounded in 2012.  Most of those were killed in NATO airstrikes, although that number, too, dropped by nearly half last year to 126, including 51 children.  The death of civilians in military operations, particularly in airstrikes, has been among a major source of acrimony between Karzai’s government and foreign forces.

March 2013: A NATO helicopter killed two children and wounded eight civilians during an attack on Taliban fighters.  The helicopter opened fire as it supported Afghan soldiers near the town of Ghazni despite president Hamid Karzai forbidding troops to call for foreign air support.

April 2013: Figures are released saying that between 2006 and 2012, 10,737 civilians were killed by anti-government forces in Afghanistan, and 3,436 by pro-government forces and 2,006 not known.  So between 21% and 34% were killed by ‘friendly fire’.  This is by air and ground troops.  Messy, a civil war, isn’t it?

November 2013: A letter from US president Barack Obama said the US had already “redoubled our efforts to ensure that Afghan homes are respected by our forces” and continued to “make every effort to respect the sanctity and dignity of Afghans in their homes and in their daily lives, just as we do for our own citizens“.

November 2013: The number of civilian deaths from airstrikes fell by more than one third in the first half of this year, but around 50 people were killed, according to United Nations statistics. Overall, the Taliban and other insurgent groups were responsible for three-quarters of civilian casualties.  [That’s progress.  In 2008 one third of civilian deaths were ‘collateral damage’, by 2013 it was only one in four ‘accidental’ innocent civilian deaths by the coalition.]

December 2014: An airstrike by coalition forces killed three Afghan villagers who were “heavily armed” but not part of the Taliban insurgency.  The governor of eastern Logar province said the coalition had told local authorities the dead were Taliban insurgents, but that villagers said the dead were civilians protecting their land from nomads.

October 2015: Barack Obama promises full probe into suspected US airstrike on Kunduz hospital.  Blah, blah, blah.  Fourteen years of airstrikes killing civilians and fourteen years of “The Department of Defense has launched a full investigation“.  In the UK we call that a ‘cover-up’.  It should take 20 minutes to find out who is the commander in that area, ask who was the officer on duty, ask who ordered the airstrikes and then ask them why.  It was supposed to be “jaw-jaw instead of war-war” not “jaw-jaw so we can carry on with war-war”.

NATO has alienated the Afghan people by excessive reliance on air strikes that have caused high civilian casualties.
General Stanley McChrystal, USA commander in Afghanistan

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