Officials in Afghanistan’s Helmand province and international media are reporting at least 30 civilians, including 16 children, were killed in the latest US air strike targeting Taliban militants.
Reuters reports the latest US mass casualty bombing in Afghanistan came amid a surge in aerial operations aimed at forcing the Taliban to the negotiating table after more than 17 years of US-led war there. Officials said Afghan government advisers and US troops were attacked late on Tuesday by Taliban fighters based in a compound in Garsmir district, south of Marjah, in southern Helmand. The militants attacked the Afghans and Americans with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, according to the NATO-led Resolute Support forces.
Provincial governor Mohammad Yasin Khan said Afghan troops called in air strikes, with US warplanes responding with attacks that killed both Taliban fighters and local civilians. A local resident told Reuters that "foreign forces bombed the area and the bombs hit my brother’s house." He said the victims included women and 16 children. Another local resident, Feda Mohammad, said more victims remained buried beneath the rubble of the compound.
The NATO-led coalition said it was unaware of any civilians in the area of the air strikes.
"At the time of the strike, the ground force was unaware of any civilians in or around the compound; they only knew that the Taliban was using the building as a fighting position," a spokeswoman said in a statement.
US air strikes in Afghanistan have sharply increased in recent months, part of a strategy meant to drive the Taliban into talks aimed at ending the longest war in US history. A spike in civilian casualties has accompanied this surge; last month a United Nations report revealed that the number of Afghan civilians – mostly women and children – killed or injured by NATO and Afghan air strikes has risen 39 percent in 2018. The UN report said 313 civilians had been killed and another 336 injured from January 1 through September 30, more casualties than in all of 2017.
While the spike in innocent deaths is alarming, the 649 casualties represent just 8 percent of all Afghan civilian casualties for 2018. Ground engagements, improvised explosive devices (IEDs) and suicide attacks accounted for nearly three quarters of civilian casualties this year.
Last October, Gen. John W. Nicholson Jr., the top US military commander in Afghanistan, promised to unleash "a tidal wave of air power" meant to overwhelm the Taliban. "This is the beginning of the end for the Taliban," Nicholson vowed, although the militant group continues to mount fierce resistance to the Afghan government and NATO forces.
The increase in Afghan casualties mirrors a similar rise in civilian casualties in most of the seven countries under attack by the United States. While campaigning for president, Donald Trump said he would "bomb the shit out of" Islamic State militants and kill their families. His administration has fulfilled that promise, loosening rules of engagement meant to protect civilians and resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi, and most recently, Syrian civilians from US-led bombing.
Last May, US Defense Secretary James Mattis announced that the US was shifting from a policy of "attrition" to one of "annihilation" in the war against IS just as a surge in bombing was killing large numbers of civilians. Cities including Mosul, Iraq and Raqqa, Syria were virtually destroyed, while intense bombing continues in Syria’s Deir Ezzor province in an effort to drive IS from its last remaining strongholds.
The US-based journalistic monitor group Airwars estimates at least 6,700 Syrian and Iraqi civilians have been killed by coalition bombardment since former president Barack Obama intervened in Syria’s civil war in 2014. In the wider US-led war against terrorism, death toll estimates range from conservative figures of around half a million to possibly more than 2 million. Since the Islamist terror attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States has attacked – and killed innocent men, women and children in – Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Libya and Syria.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based freelance journalist and editor-at-large for US news at Digital Journal. His work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com.