US officials admitted on Saturday that US airstrikes in Kunduz province on Thursday had likely resulted in civilian casualties.
Afghan and US forces were looking for a meeting of Taliban leaders in the village of Bozi Kandahari. They were said to have faced significant enemy fire to which they responded by calling in air support. US officials did not provide any details about the number of casualties but Afghan officials and witnesses claim about 30 civilians including many women and children were killed and 25 injured when their homes were bombed while they slept. In the fighting 2 US troops and 3 Afghan special operations troops were killed as well.Rights groups and some Afghan leaders have criticized civilian deaths caused by US bombings and raids. Many claim the bombings undermine the war against the Taliban and radicalize families of victims.
Just over a year ago a US airstrike in Kunduz city hit a hospital killing 42 people, in what was said to be an error. However, no independent investigation was ever carried out as was demanded by Doctors Without Borders who ran the hospital.
General John Nicholson, who commands US forces in Afghanistan said:"I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives, regardless of the circumstances. The loss of innocent life is a tragedy and our thoughts are with the families. We will work with our Afghan partners to investigate and determine the facts and we will work with the government of Afghanistan to provide assistance."The US troops and Afghans were seeking a meeting of Taliban leaders planning a raid on Kunduz city. They claimed to have come under fire from several locations and had defended themselves with ground fire and the air attacks." Several Taliban leaders and members were reported killed during the engagement.
The Afghan military gave a more detailed account claiming that intelligence reports said that a senior Taliban leader in the area was holding a meeting in a certain house in the village. Special forces were lowered into the village by helicopter. A spokesperson for the Afghan Defense Ministry, Mohammed Radmanash, said: "After our commandos descended, they came under fire from four directions. That's when we asked for air support." He said that the senior Taliban leader and 20 Taliban had been killed. Radmanash said the Taliban were to blame for the civilian casualties as they used people's homes to shelter and hide.
A senior leader of the village denied there were any Taliban in the village and complained that government forces had been harassing residents as they were originally from Kandahar the birthplace of the Pashtun Taliban. Most Kunduz natives are of Tajik or Uzbek ethnic origin. He also said that everyone was asleep late Wednesday when armed troops appeared, breaking through doors and putting up ladders to roofs. The leader who gave his name as Jamaluddin said:"There were Afghans and foreigners. They were screaming at everyone not to move. My cousin Noor Ali and 18 of his family members were killed. Their house was destroyed and parts of it are still burning. We buried the dead yesterday, but neighbors are still going through the rubble, looking for anyone who is alive or for bodies to bury."Jamaluddin said that 4 houses had been bombed with 35 people killed including 18 children and 8 women. He said there were no Taliban in the village but that villagers had to defend their honor and privacy. He said if the government attacks kept up villagers would all end up in support of the Taliban.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani sent a delegation to the village to investigate the bombings. Former president Karzai was much more critical saying: "Just show me one example of a bombing that has taken us one step closer to peace."According to a report in Al Jazeera provincial spokesperson, Mahmood Danish, said of the incident: "Afghan forces and coalition troops conducted a joint operation against the Taliban insurgents. In the bombardment 30 Afghan civilians were martyred and 25 others were wounded." General Qasim Jangalbagh police chief of Kunduz claimed that two senior Taliban leaders had been killed in the fighting and 65 Taliban fighters. The village is only about 3 kilometers north of Kunduz. Much of the area around Kunduz is controlled by the Taliban.About 10,000 US troops still are in Afghanistan. More than 5,500 Afghan forces have been killed already in 2016.
Barack Obama has always vowed to end the Afghan war, but the White House recently announced that the U.S. role in the 15-year conflict will expand.
Josh Earnest, press secretary to President Obama, said that US forces would be playing a greater role in helping Afghan troops be more effective on the battlefield. He said the new support would come as "advice and assistance" as well as "occasionally accompanying them in their operations".
The Afghan forces are having difficulty containing the Taliban who are carrying out numerous attacks including on the capital of Kabul. Obama denied that Obama was restarting the combat role of the US that ended in 2014. Nevertheless, at least 9,800 US forces still remain in the country in an advisory role since 2015. They were only authorized to target Taliban in defense, or to protect Afghan troops. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said that the new order was issued to General Sean MacFarland, who is the US commander in Afghanistan.
Rosalind Jordan of Al Jazeera said the US defense department had been wanting to carry out the extended mission for months: "The concern about the resurgence of the Taliban has been growing in the Pentagon." The new plan will also include "strategic strikes" she claimed to weaken the Taliban.
The US does not want to see the Afghan military "be caught short" as the summer fighting season enters high gear. At its peak in March 2011, the US had around 100,000 troops in Afghanistan. More than 2,000 soldiers were killed. However, just last year, the Afghans lost 5,000 troops causing Obama to postpone any further withdrawal of troops.
Earnest said that in addition to an increase in air strikes, restrictions would be loosened on what ground troops could do. He said special forces would be more proactive and even engage in occasional combat operations alongside Afghan forces. Lt. Gen. John Nicholson wants to ramp operations back up as the Taliban seize more territory. It is reported that Nicholson wants to keep about 9,800 troops in Afghanistan until at least the end of the year. They could stay even longer.
Like this writer's work please donate:
Ken is a retired philosophy professor living in the boondocks of Manitoba, Canada, with his Filipina wife. He enjoys reading the news and writing articles. Politically Ken is on the far left of the political spectrum on many issues.
Running a news based website is fun, time consuming and can be costly. If you would like to help the site keep afloat please use the donate button