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Operation Enduring Freedom - Operations

Air War - Civilian Casualties

In the Summer of 2002 western reporters visited eleven locations where civilians were said to be killed by American airstrikes. These locations were:

  • Gardez: Airstrike on 14 November 2001. 23 civilians reported killed.
  • Khost: Airstrike on 16 November 2001. At least 65 civilians reported killed.
  • Zani Khel: Airstrike on 16 November 2001. 20 civilians reported killed.
  • Madoo: Airstrike on 1 December 2001. 55 civilians reported killed.
  • Khan-i-Merjahuddin: Airstrike on 1 December 2001. 48 civilians reported killed.
  • Asmani and Pokharai: Airstrike on 20 December 2001. About 50 civilians reported killed.
  • Niazi Qala: Late December 2001. 52 civilians reported killed.
  • Zhawara: 4 February 2002. 3 civilians reported killed.
  • Char Chine: 12 May 2002. 5 civilians reported killed.
  • Kakrak: 1 July 2002. 54 civilians reported killed.

Civilian casualties continued to be a major issue, despite conflict claims of numbers of casualties and the nature of those killed. Another airstrike on July 1 reportedly struck a wedding party, with the assertion at the time being that celebratory gunfire on the ground had been mistaken for hostile gunfire directed at US aircraft in the area. The Pentagon acknowledged that civilians had been killed, but said the exact numbers were unclear.

The issue of civilian casualties due to airstrikes continued to grow between 2002 and 2006, with numerous incidents, both real and fictitious being reported. Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies told the Washington Post in August 2008 that between 2004 and 2007 the use of air strikes had increased tenfold. Air power had been a major factor in Afghanistan from the beginning of the conflict and with the drawdown in forces deployed there between 2002 and 2005, more empahsis had been placed on using air strikes to combat the resurgent influence of the Taliban.

By 2007 the NATO-led International Stabilization Assistance Force began making a point of investigating all claims of civilian deaths due to ISAF action. Incidents often included civilians caught in the crossfire during engagements between ISAF and insurgent forces, such as a 19 September 2007 airstrike ISAF admitted killed an indeterminate number of civilians in an area north of Zumbelay. ISAF reported that its forces were unaware of civilians in the area when they called in strikes on Taliban positions during an firefight.

On 28 October 2007, Maj. Charles Anthony, ISAF Deputy Spokesman, reminded the press that "We take all allegations of injuries to Afghan civilians very seriously and have a dedicated team to ensure that a timely and thorough investigation is conducted in such cases, even if the allegations may be due to insurgent propaganda." An allegation of civilians killed in an airstrike on 22 October 2007 had turned out, according to an ISAF investigation, unfounded. The investigation found that there was no credible information to support such claims and this was confirmed by Wardak Provincial Governor Naimi. This had been the second unsubstantiated claim concerning civilian casualties to surface from Wardak Province that month. On 15 October 2007, a police official was quoted by several media organizations as saying that three to seven civilians had been killed in an airstrike. The officer later denied ever making such statements.

In July 2008 an airstrike reportedly killed between 70 and 90 civilians, of what a UN inquiry determined to be a wedding party. US military officials in Afghanistan initially contended that the target was Taliban related and were to conduct their own investigation. The event led to a call from President Hamid Karzai for a review of the operations of foreign forces in his country and the negotiation of a status of forces agreement similar to that being negotiated at the time between the United States and the Iraqi government.




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