Afghans prepare graves for people killed by a US airstrike on Azizabad village in Herat province. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) s
August 31, 2008

Graves In Herat

Afghans prepare graves for people killed by a US airstrike on Azizabad village in Herat province. The UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) says it has has found "convincing evidence" that 90 civilians -- including 60 children -- were killed in US-led air strikes last week.(AFP/File/Reza Shirmohammadi)

Some of you might remember this story from last Sunday. The UN has backed Afghan claims that a recent airstrike in Afghanistan didn't kill Taliban militants as the US military claims but instead killed 90 civilians, about 60 of them children. Under pressure, the US has now agreed to a joint investigation.

Evidence from all sides regarding the raid has been scant, with no conclusive photos or video emerging to shed light on what happened in Azizabad. But the claim of high civilian casualties by the Afghan government, which is backed by the U.N., is causing new friction between the Afghan president and his Western backers.

... The U.S. military says civilians are never deliberately targeted and that forces go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

... Three Afghan officials said Thursday that U.S. commanders were misled into striking some 15 houses in Azizabad.

They said U.S. special forces troops and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival clan.

The officials said the raid was aimed at militants who were supposed to be in the village, but they said the operation was based on faulty information provided by Shah's rival, whom they identified as Nader Tawakal.

Afghans targeted in U.S. raids have complained for years of being pursued based solely on information given by other Afghans who sometimes are business rivals, neighbors with vendettas or who are simply interested in reward money for anti-government militants.

Afghan Civilian Deaths The local Afghan version of what happened is terribly reminiscent of the "bounties for terrorists" system that led to literally tens of thousands of Iraqis being arrested after being fingered by neighbours with grudges. The US military have released 11,000 Iraqi detainees this year and about 20,000 remain in US-run prison camps at Camp Cropper in Baghdad and Camp Bucca in southern Iraq. It's also reminsicent of the bounty system that led to them filling Gitmo with detainees, over 80% of whom were later released without charge.

You'd think by now they'd have worked out that the bounty system isn't working, it's just being used to settle local grudges. That's piss poor COIN doctrine - losing hearts and minds even among the fingerers, who surely see the US as just an unthinking oppressor of whom they can take temporary advantage.

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