September 6, 2002
CENTCOM Release 02-09-03
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Unclassified Executive Summary
Investigation of Civilian Casualties, Oruzgan Province
Operation FULL THROTTLE, 30 June 2002
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 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, 2 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 4 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 antiaircraft weapons or even a significant presence of shell casings from any weapon. The fact-finding team found two small piles of RPK 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, RPK's (squad machine gun) and DShK's (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.
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