US Admits but Still Defends Afghan Civilian Slaughter

The attack in Farah province killed as many as 140 Afghan civilians. The US military says errors were made, but insists the "targets" "posed legitimate threats to Afghan or American forces."

The May 4 US bombing in Farah Province in Afghanistan was reportedly the single worst aerial attack by US forces since the 2001 invasion began. Afghan sources said as many as 130-140 civilians were killed. At the time, The New York Times reported the attack "could be the largest case of civilian casualties since an attack on the village of Azizabad in western Afghanistan last year, in which United Nations officials said there was convincing evidence that 90 civilians were killed." Among the dead, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross were 13 members of the one family, including a worker for the Red Crescent.

In the immediate aftermath, the Pentagon tried to spin a story that Taliban fighters used grenades to kill three families to "stage" a massacre and then blame it on the US. The ICRC passionately rejected this claim, saying, "We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family who had been sheltering from fighting in a house that was bombed in an air strike."

Over the past month, the US military has been conducting an internal investigation. It bears remembering that the US track record of thoroughly "investigating" US massacres is pathetic. The UN said there was convincing evidence that last year’s US attack on the village of Azizabad killed 90 civilians, but the military only acknowledged 30 civilian deaths.

Now, it seems that the military is once again preparing a "sorta culpa" on the Farah bombing, which the US military has already said killed an estimated 20-30 civilians and 65 "Taliban." The New York Times details some findings from a not-yet-released military investigative report on the bombing:

In the report, the investigating officer, Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, analyzed each of the airstrikes carried out by three aircraft-carrier-based Navy F/A-18 strike aircraft and an Air Force B-1 bomber against targets in the village of Granai, in a battle that lasted more than seven hours.

In each case, the [anonymous] senior military official said, General Thomas determined that the targets that had been struck posed legitimate threats to Afghan or American forces, which included one group of Marines assigned to train the Afghans and another assigned to a Special Operations task force.

But in "several cases," the official said, General Thomas determined either that the airstrikes had not been the appropriate response to the threat because of the potential risk to civilians, or that American forces had failed to follow their own tactical rules in conducting the bombing runs.


The official said the civilian death toll would probably have been reduced if American air crews and forces on the ground had followed strict rules devised to prevent civilian casualties. Had the rules been followed, at least some of the strikes by American warplanes against half a dozen targets over seven hours would have been aborted.

This is a story that should not be forgotten and it should not be swept under the rug of impunity. The victims of this bombing deserve justice and there must be accountability for those responsible.

Author: Jeremy Scahill

Independent journalist Jeremy Scahill is author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute.