A pair of air strikes in southern Afghanistan killed 14 civilians, including five women and seven children, the United Nations said on Thursday.
The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) tweeted that the attacks occurred in Helmand and Kunar provinces on May 20 and May 22. It did not say who carried out the attacks, however, most bombings are led or supported by the United States, with Afghanistan’s fledgling air force also carrying out some strikes.
"Civilian casualty toll from air strikes in Afghanistan continues to rise," UNAMA warned. "Parties must respect international obligations to protect civilians from harm."
In April, UNAMA released a report revealing that during the first three months of 2019, the Afghan military and US-led coalition forces had killed more civilians than the Taliban and other allied militants. According to the report, Afghan government and coalition forces killed 305 civilians in January, February and March. Taliban and associated militants killed 227 people. There was a silver lining in the report – it stated that overall civilian casualties fell by nearly 25 percent during the three-month period, with a total of 581 civilians killed and 1,192 wounded.
The latest civilian deaths come as the US is intensifying its bombing campaign – now in its 19th year – against the Taliban and other Islamist militants, while simultaneously seeking a peace agreement with Taliban leaders. There have been six rounds of peace talks so far; at the close of the latest round of discussions earlier this month Taliban spokesman Muhammad Sohail Shaheen called the negotiations "positive and constructive."
Meanwhile, US, Afghan and allied bombing continues to take a deadly toll on Afghan men, women and children. According to US Central Command (CENTCOM), US warplanes dropped 7,362 bombs on Afghanistan last year, the highest number since at least 2010. The results have been devastating. Last week, US warplanes accidentally bombed a group of Afghan policemen, killing 17 and wounding 14 others. Last November, Afghan officials said at least 30 civilians, including 16 children, were killed in US air strikes in Helmand province.
Civilian casualties have soared in nearly all of the seven countries under attack by the United States in its open-ended anti-terrorism campaign. The current administration has demonstrated what some critics call a criminal disregard for civilian life. While campaigning for president in 2015, 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.
Earlier this year, President Trump also signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era requirement that the director of national intelligence publish an annual report on civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in areas "outside of war zones" that are nevertheless under US attack, including Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya.
When the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in December 2017 that it would seek an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan, the Trump administration responded with a pressure campaign that included prohibiting ICC members involved in the probe from entering the United States. The ICC subsequently decided against investigating US forces.
While it is impossible to say exactly how many civilians have been killed since the beginning of the post-9/11 US-led global war on terror – as General Tommy Franks infamously declared during the early days of the Iraq war, "we don’t do body counts" – credible death toll estimates range from conservative figures of around half a million to possibly more than 2 million. Since waging the world’s only nuclear war against a defeated Japan in 1945, the US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.
Brett Wilkins is a San Francisco-based independent journalist and activist whose work, which focuses on issues of war and peace and human rights, is archived at www.brettwilkins.com