The United Nations Mission in Afghanistan, or UNAMA, issued a strongly-worded statement that “condemns” a US airstrike on Sept. 28 which targeted Islamic State fighters in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar. United States Forces – Afghanistan is investigating reports that an airstrike in the Taliban controlled district of Achin in Nangarhar killed 15 civilians.
An airstrike targeting Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as Daesh, was conducted yesterday in the eastern district of Achin. In the process civilian casualties were incurred.
UNAMA condemns the killing of at least 15 civilian men and the injuring of at least 13 others, including at least one boy, in the strike.
In the early morning of 28 September, an international military forces unmanned aerial vehicle conducted an airstrike, reportedly targeting members of ISIL/Daesh, that struck a civilian home killing the 15 civilians.
The civilians had gathered in a village to celebrate the return of a tribal elder from the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and were reportedly sleeping in a guesthouse of the elder when the airstrike occurred. Civilian victims of the strike included students and a teacher, as well as members of families considered to be pro-Government. Government sources report that ISIL/Daesh personnel also died in the attack.
Additionally, UNAMA “reiterates the need for all parties to the conflict to adhere to their obligations under international humanitarian law” and “calls on the Government and international military forces to launch a prompt, independent, impartial, transparent, and effective investigation into this incident.”
US Forces – Afghanistan (USFOR-A) issued a statement one day prior on the website of Resolute Support, the NATO mission in Afghanistan, that acknowledged reports of civilian casualties and said it was indeed investigating:
United States Forces – Afghanistan takes all allegations of civilian casualties very seriously.
Nangarhar province has been a focus for Daesh activity since 2015. Daesh seek to use the area to train, equip, disseminate propaganda, and expand their control over innocent Afghans.
Our Afghan partners, especially their special forces, have been working diligently to disrupt and destroy Daesh in Southern Nangarhar, and we continue to work alongside them to support their efforts. The ANDSF have significantly reduced Daesh presence and inflicted hundreds of casualties on them. In addition and as part of US unilateral counter-terrorism operations, US forces also killed their leader in Afghanistan, Hafiz Sayed Khan, in late July.
Daesh is killing innocent Afghan men, women, and children. They continue to put innocent lives at risk by deliberately surrounding themselves with civilians and dressing in female attire. We have repeatedly said that we will target Daesh wherever they are in order to disrupt their operations, degrade their attack networks, and protect innocent lives.
We won’t discuss the details of the specific counter-terrorism operation conducted in Nangarhar on 28 September because we are still reviewing all materials related to the strike. We take every possible measure to avoid civilian casualties in these operations, and will continue to work with Afghan authorities to determine if there is cause for additional investigation as we partner with the Afghan government in the broader fight against terrorism.
We will continue our mission to degrade, disrupt, and destroy Daesh and to help our Afghan partners to do the same.
Given that the strike took place in Achin district in Nangarhar, which remains under Islamic State control despite repeated Afghan military operations designed to eject the jihadist group, it is likely that an accurate accounting of what happened on Sept. 28 will be difficult to obtain.
The Achin strike serves to remind us that even though the US military tries to “take every possible measure to avoid civilian casualties in these operations,” civilian casualties are an inevitable byproduct of war. Human error and faulty intelligence, often coupled with the over-reliance on local forces to identify targets, have led to situations where civilians have been killed, such as at the Doctors Without Borders hospital in the city of Kunduz in the fall of 2015.
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