US and NATO coalition troops have come under severe criticism from Karzai after the “civilian deaths” in Herat from an airstrike. The incident is being hyped because of conflicting reports on the death toll from the Government, the UN and the US military. Last week, a US-led airstrike at midnight in the Shindand District of Herat Province caused, according to Karzai, over 95 civilian casualties, including more than 50 children, 25 women and about 7 men. Karzai has so far made numerous visits to Azizabad village, the venue of the incident to offer his condolences to the bereaved locals.
In this post we provide an analysis of the event and evaluate its significance for Karzai.
On Friday, August 22, US-led troops operated against alleged Taliban insurgents in Shindand District of Herat. In a quick response, Karzai strongly condemned the attacks, claiming civilians were killed in the operation. He used strong words for NATO and US troops: “We will think of limitations on NATO and US operations.”
Karzai also dismissed two high-ranking Afghanistan National Army officers, and sent a government delegation to assess the civilian death toll, which they reported to be around 95.
NATO, however, gives a different picture of the events. A statement from NATO read: “Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound [in the village] using RPGs and heavy weaponry. The joint Afghanistan-NATO forces responded with air strike, requested by Afghan National Army, killing 30 Taliban and a Commander, Mullah Sadiq.”
Karzai and the Defense Ministry strongly rejected that Taliban were present in the area, and reiterated that the dead were all civilians.
This unprecedented state of affairs prompted the US to order its own probe into the matter.
Meanwhile, Karzai and his cabinet decided to review the military agreements with NATO and the US.
A week later, a UN report confirmed the deaths of 90 civilians, including 60 children. The UN report said there was “convincing evidence” to back these figures. The report was based on what villagers, not related to the victims, told the UN investigative team.
There has been no documented evidence — photos, film footage, grave sites, etc — to back the UN and Karzai Administration’s figures.
The US strongly refuted the UN report, saying the air strike killed 30 Taliban, including their commander, Mullah Sadiq.
Following this, NATO proposed a joint investigation by the US troops, NATO mission and Afghan officials. The report is yet to be released.
The conflicting reports on alleged “civilian deaths” shows there are some inaccuracies from all sides.
According to media reports, all casualties occurred in only seven homes. However, ninety people can almost never be accommodated in seven homes, which tend to be small in Afghanistan. Also, the fact that there were around 60 children, 25 women and only 7 men — such disproportionate demographics for civilian families — raises serious doubts about the UN and Karzai administration’s reports. Also, the Karzai administration, the UN or the media — local or international — have failed to provide any documentary evidence to corroborate the figures provided.
On the contrary, the US report, which said 30 Taliban and only 5 civilians were killed in the incident, was based on statements of 30 Afghanistan and US troops, who participated in the operation. The US report was also based on footage of the area, pictures of the burial site, and ammunition seized from the Taliban.
Moreover, the Karzai administration’s report does not mention any Taliban casualties, while General Jalandar Shah Bahman, dismissed by Karzai after the incident, told Washington Post that Afghan and US forces called for airs support after they faced intense firing from Taliban terrorists in the area.
A villager talking with Washington Post said, “I suspect some villagers had hidden the bodies of Taliban fighters.”
The Truth behind the “civilian deaths”:
Karzai has announced his plans to contest in the 2009 presidential elections, a deadline that is fast approaching. However, his popularity is at an all-time low, even among his fellow Pashtoons who constitute his primary vote bank. They think Karzai is a poodle of the US and NATO allies.
He is making a big deal of the “civilian deaths” to bolster his political status among his voters; he wants to project an image of formidability by standing up to the US and NATO forces.
Karzai is speaking the diplomatic language of Taliban:
The masses and some media outlets have been complaining about Karzai’s ethnocentristic views, which are clearly visible in his policies. He has been emphasizing on Pashtoonization of the defense forces, and supporting the idea to negotiate with Taliban.
Actually, the current hue and cry is intended to lay the groundwork for his clandestine, long term plans to oust the NATO and US forces. He has asked on several occasions that the NATO and US operations be commanded by the Afghanistan Army. While he is working on this goal, he also aims to regain some of his lost popularity to bolster his upcoming presidential campaign.
This is the diplomatic language of the Taliban: Scoring points by creating public hatred against the coalition troops.
The UN’s susceptibility:
The report produced by United Nation’s Assistance Mission in Afghanistan is questionable at best. UNAMA has been known to accept pressure from the Presidential Palace in the past. In January, for example, Karzai blocked Lord Ashdown’s appointment as the UN Special Envoy to Afghanistan.
In another instance, the former UN Envoy, Christopher Alexander, was forced to leave his office for criticizing the role of Karzai’s government in last year’s Kuchi invasion of Behsud. Having learnt its lesson, UNAMA decided to keep mum this year, even after armed nomad invaders killed 23 villagers in Behsud and Karzai did nothin to prevent it.
Given the history of influences, it is indeed very likely that the UN report on the death toll from the air strike was influenced by Karzai.
Karzai’s hue and cry and magnification of the recent deaths can best be termed as crocodiles tears, because his cries have no humanitarian aspect; rather, they are part of his attemps to secure presidency in the upcoming elections.