The Washington Post, February 20, 2011
Afghan Officials: 64 Innocent Afghans Killed in US Military Operation
Governor Wahidi said of the 64 dead, 20 were women, 29 were children or young adults, and the other 15 were adult men.
By Joshua Partlow and Habib Zahori
KABUL--Afghan government officials alleged Sunday that a U.S. military operation in the remote mountains of northeastern Afghanistan killed 65 innocent people, including 22 women and more than 30 children, the most serious civilian casualty allegation in months.
A boy, injured during a NATO air strike, lies on a hospital bed in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province February 20, 2011. Joint operations by Afghan forces and NATO-led foreign troops killed 64 civilians in Kunar, including many women and children, over the past four days, the governor of Kunar said on Sunday. (Photo: Reuters)
The governor of Kunar province, Fazlullah Wahidi, said that NATO forces launched the operation four days ago in the Ghaziabad district, a desolate area near the province's northern border with Pakistan, where a lethal mix of insurgent groups operate.
"According to locals in the area, American helicopters have been constantly bombing the village and have caused tremendous civilian casualties," Wahidi said in an interview. He said he received his information from residents "trapped," in the villages.
American commanders went into crisis mode Sunday and launched an investigation into the incident in an attempt to find the truth and prevent the episode from damaging relations with the Afghan government.
"We take all those allegations seriously and we'll get to the bottom of them as best we possibly can," said a senior U.S. military official who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
"It's just the challenging situation that goes on with these type of incidents: an isolated area, a tough area, tough terrain."
The official said that those killed, as in most cases, were wearing civilian clothes. "But civilians involved in hostilities, I think that was the majority of them."
A NATO statement said that video and information from the coalition showed that 36 insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. The American soldiers involved responded to insurgent activity and fired with aircraft and an unmanned Predator drone.
"It's up in the mountains, and it's not around villages, so we don't think it's very likely" they were civilians, the official said.
Such incidents in the past have been a source of major tension between the Afghan government and coalition troops. The loss of civilian life has regularly prompted a stern response from President Hamid Karzai, who spoke out again Sunday, condemning the killings in the "strongest possible terms."
Karzai, who put the death toll at 50 civilians, said in a statement that it is his responsibility to protect Afghans' lives and property, and he "will take any steps necessary to prevent and stop civilian casualties in his country."
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