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Military

09 September 2002

U.S. Military Report Says Taliban Hid Guns in Civilian Areas

(Myers says terrorists "have hidden behind civilians before") (1610)
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Air Force General Richard
Myers, says it is "not an unusual tactic" for terrorists to hide
behind civilians and intentionally fire on U.S. and coalition forces.
"They have hidden behind civilians before. And they will do it in the
future," Myers told host Sam Donaldson September 8 on the ABC-TV
interview program, "This Week." He was responding to a question about
an incident in Afghanistan in July when members of an Afghan wedding
party were killed after coalition aircraft responded to apparently
hostile fire.
Myers said a follow-up investigation showed that the aircraft were
intentionally fired upon. There are coalition and Afghan eye witness
accounts to the hostile fire from both the ground and air, he said. He
termed it very unfortunate that innocents were killed when coalition
forces returned fire on July 1.
The U.S. Central Command -- headquartered at MacDill Air Force Base in
Tampa, Florida -- recently posted to its Web site a summary statement
of its report on the events that occurred this summer during
"Operation Full Throttle." The contents of the report were addressed
in a September 7 New York Times article about the events which
occurred at several compounds in the Oruzgan Province.
The executive summary states that "great care was taken to strike only
those sites that were actively firing" against coalition forces. While
expressing regret for the loss of innocent lives, the summary also
states: "the responsibility for the loss rests with those that
knowingly directed hostile fire at coalition forces."
The summary also says that the operators of the hostile weapons --
including anti-aircraft guns -- "elected to place them in civilian
communities and elected to fire them at coalition forces at a time
when they knew there were a significant number of civilians present."
It was not possible for the crew of the AC-130 gunship, which returned
fire, "to distinguish men from women or adults from children," it
said.
Coalition forces were able to confirm 34 deaths, and 50 wounded. The
Afghan government estimate was higher: 48 dead and 117 wounded.
Initial reports by villagers ranged as high as 250 dead and 600
injured in attacks at target areas located on the east and west side
of the Helmand River. The report concluded that the exact number of
dead and wounded "will never be able to be confirmed."
Following is the U.S. Central Command summary of the report cited by
Myers:
(begin text)
Unclassified Executive Summary Investigation of Civilian Casualties,
Oruzgan Province Operation FULL THROTTLE
The Deh Rawod area of Afghanistan is considered the "home" of the
Taliban and remains an area where the Taliban enjoy popular support.
The extended families of both Mullah Mohammed Omar, the former
"Supreme Leader" of the Taliban, and Mullah Berader, the former
"Senior Military Commander" of the Taliban, reside in the area.
Coalition aircraft have regularly been the target of hostile fire from
the Deh Rawod area. While ineffective, the fire was clearly
intentional and directed toward coalition forces. Two weeks prior to
Operation FULL THROTTLE (OFT), covert reconnaissance of the area was
conducted. Gunfire from various caliber weapons was observed
throughout the day and at night, including mortars and AAA
[anti-aircraft] fire. The Deh Rawod area appeared to support enemy
military training.
OFT was intended to deny Deh Rawod as an enemy sanctuary. Afghan
forces were involved the execution of the mission.
Two days before the incident, additional reconnaissance teams were
inserted into positions where they could observe the specific
objectives and the approaches that coalition ground and airborne
forces would take to execute their missions. Hostile fire was directed
at coalition helicopters conducting these insertions, forcing at least
one to land at an alternate site. During this period of increased and
focused reconnaissance, every time a coalition aircraft appeared
overhead or could be heard at night, ground fire was directed at it.
These fires were traced back to their source locations on the ground.
From the nature and characteristics of the fires, it was clear that
these were AAA and not small arms.
Several compounds in the Deh Rawod area were positively identified as
sources of this AAA fire. AAA fire had emanated from these compounds
on repeated occasions over the previous two days and the source of the
fires did not change. In all cases, the locations of these compounds
were such that they could range and threaten coalition ground and
airborne forces that were to execute OFT. On-call close air support
assets were assigned to OFT to counter these threats should AAA in
those compounds become active in the moments immediately preceding the
introduction of coalition forces into the area.
As coalition ground and airborne forces approached the area, fire
erupted from some of the compounds. By firing, these AAA batteries
established that they were manned, armed and operational. Their
proximity to the objectives, landing zones and blocking positions made
them a threat to inbound coalition forces. Consequently, these sites
were valid targets and AC-130 aircraft were directed toward them.
Significant efforts were expended to ensure only the compounds that
were the sources of fire were targeted. At the first targeted
compound, the apparent location of most of the deaths and injuries,
AAA fire was directed at the AC-130 as it approached. At one location,
however, the AC-130 arrived at a target and found it to be "cold" and
elected not to strike it.
The AC-130 was not able to observe the AAA weapon itself. Rather, the
ground location of the source of the fire was identified and fires
were directed to that area. Just as the weapon itself is not seen, it
is also not possible to determine if the fires from the AC-130 have
damaged or destroyed the weapon. Consequently, personnel at the
weapon's location were the primary targets. Unfortunately, it is also
not possible to distinguish men from women or adults from children.
The dead and wounded later observed by coalition forces were mostly
women and children. Coalition medical personnel treated the wounded.
Four wounded children were medically evacuated by helicopter. A search
of the first targeted compound, about two to four hours after the
AC-130 had departed, revealed bloodstains and evidence of the AC-130
weapons impacts. There were no weapons or spent cartridges of any type
readily observed within the compound. Further, the local Afghans
maintained that most of the dead had already been buried -- although
no fresh gravesites were observed.
Near the second compound that had been targeted, coalition forces
established a checkpoint. The checkpoint identified approximately 20
injured personnel being transported to local medical facilities. Of
the 20, two were adult males.
Villagers had initially claimed 250 dead and 600 injured, but a
village elder later admitted that the real numbers were only about 25%
of those figures. The Afghan government presented a report listing 48
dead and 117 wounded. Coalition forces could only confirm 34 dead and
approximately 50 wounded. An exact number will never be able to be
confirmed.
Although the AC-130 struck 6 AAA sites, the local Afghans claimed that
all of the dead and injured were located at only the first two
compounds. Both of these targets were east of the Helmand River, while
the other four targets were on the west side. Due to difficult
terrain, safety and other limitations, neither coalition forces
immediately following OFT, CJTF-180 representatives during the
fact-finding mission on 3-4 July, nor Investigation Board members
during the Investigation Board's visit to the area on 24 July were
able to visit any of the sites on the west side of the river. The
visits to the two compounds did not reveal the presence of any
anti-aircraft weapons or even a significant presence of shell casings
from any weapon. The fact-finding team found two small piles of RPK
[squad machine gun] rounds (about 12 total shells), but also noted
that the two compounds showed no signs of having been occupied and had
recently been raked. By the time the Investigation Board visited on 24
July, they were only able to confirm the existence of battle damage at
the two compounds consistent with fires from an AC-130. Local Afghans
continued to maintain that all the deaths and injuries were confined
to these two compounds and did not facilitate visits to the other
compounds.
In the period immediately following the incident, village elders
admitted to coalition forces that people within the village regularly
had fired at aircraft using AK-47s, RPKs (squad machine gun) and DShKs
(heavy machine gun), but not with a weapon larger than 23 mm. In fact,
village elders acknowledged holding a local Shura (town meeting) the
day prior to the incident to discuss firing weapons into the air
during weddings and firing at aircraft. Also, two freshly completed
drawings on the walls of the local pharmacy/hospital depicted people
firing at helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft.
There were people within this area of Oruzgan Province that regularly
aimed and fired of variety of weapons at coalition aircraft. These
weapons represented a real threat to coalition forces. As OFT
commenced, AAA weapons were fired and, as a result, an AC-130
aircraft, acting properly and in accordance with the rules, engaged
the locations of those weapons. Great care was taken to strike only
those sites that were actively firing that night. While the coalition
regrets the loss of innocent lives, the responsibility for that loss
rests with those that knowingly directed hostile fire at coalition
forces. The operators of those weapons elected to place them in
civilian communities and elected to fire them at coalition forces at a
time when they knew there were a significant number of civilians
present.
(end text)
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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