Afghan Civilian Deaths: Who is to Blame?
Analysis by Laura King
17 May 09 | LAT
Commanders and villagers give conflicting accounts of the attack that Afghan officials say killed 140 civilians, two-thirds of them children and teenagers, in what may prove the most lethal episode of civilian casualties since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 — a toll disputed by the U.S. But injured girls make clear the costs for two families.
The road to Bala Baluk district stretches arrow-straight ahead, with heat-shimmered cucumber fields on either side. But determining exactly what transpired nearly two weeks ago in a hamlet called Garani takes a far more twisted path.
A battle raged. Bombs fell. Afghan officials say at least 140 civilians died, two-thirds of them children and teenagers, in what may prove the most lethal episode of civilian casualties since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.
Days of interviews with U.S. and Afghan commanders, mourning villagers and jittery provincial authorities, doctors and human rights activists about the fighting of May 4 yielded accounts that could be likened to a series of linked circles; some elements overlap while others appear irreconcilable.
Villagers consistently told of a bombardment that came at least 90 minutes after the Taliban had melted away from Garani, a village just 22 miles from the provincial capital, Farah City. The military insists that the airstrikes were based on real-time information and driven by precise battlefield imperatives. Local people are adamant that bombardment caused the civilian deaths; the U.S. military asserts that at least some were inflicted by the Taliban, and it sharply disputes the toll of 140.
Whatever emerges as something akin to truth, the events that took place in this desolate patch of western desert stand as a microcosm of the Afghan war, a stark illustration of the enormous obstacles faced as the new American administration commits greater numbers of U.S. troops than ever before to confront an increasingly powerful Taliban insurgency. >>>
- Villagers in Afghanistan Describe Chaos of U.S. Strikes (14 May 09)
- After U.S. Strikes, Afghans Describe ‘Tractor Trailers Full of Pieces of Human Bodies’ (7 May 09)