Skip to main content

U.S.-led probe disputes Afghan civilian death toll

  • Story Highlights
  • ISAF: August 22 strike in Herat killed 30-35 Taliban militants, five to seven civilians
  • Afghan authorities: More than 90 civilians -- most of them children -- were slain
  • U.S. military official: Airstrike was on a legitimate target, weapons found at site
  • Afghan president fired two military commanders in the wake of the strike
  • Next Article in World »
Decrease font Decrease font
Enlarge font Enlarge font

(CNN) -- The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan has completed its investigation of an August airstrike and found no evidence to support Afghan claims that as many as 90 civilians were killed, the coalition said Tuesday.

The investigation found the August 22 strike in the Western Afghan province of Herat killed 30-35 Taliban militants and five to seven civilians, the coalition said in a statement.

Investigators determined the numbers of casualties by observing enemy movements during the engagement and on-site observations immediately afterward, it said.

Tuesday's completed findings reflect initial coalition conclusions, released last week, that the strike did not kill a large number of civilians.

An Afghan investigation, completed August 24, concluded that more than 90 civilians -- most of them children -- were killed as a result of the airstrike. That conclusion prompted Afghan ministers to demand a review of international troops within its borders.

Afghanistan's Council of Ministers then called on the Ministries of Defense and Foreign Affairs to start negotiating a "status of forces" agreement with international forces -- which include U.S. and NATO troops.

The council also asked that the ministries demand the international forces halt all airstrikes on civilian targets, as well as house searches that are not coordinated with Afghan authorities, and the illegal detention of civilians.

That same day, Afghan President Hamid Karzai announced that he fired two military commanders in the wake of the strike, including Gen. Jalandar Shah, the Afghan army's corps commander for western Afghanistan.

Karzai blamed U.S.-led coalition forces for failing to coordinate their attack with the Afghan army. But the coalition said the airstrike was called in by Afghan and coalition troops as they embarked on a raid to arrest a Taliban commander in Shindand.

The coalition investigation found that U.S. and Afghan forces began taking fire from Taliban militants as the forces approached the target in the early hours of August 22.

"The intensity of the enemy fire justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close-air support to defend the combined force," the coalition statement said. "The type and application of fires were used in accordance with existing rules of engagement."

The investigation found evidence that Mullah Sadiq, a known Taliban commander, was among the militants who were killed, the coalition said.

A U.S. military official, who declined to be named citing the ongoing investigation, previously cast doubt on reports that 76 people in one room died in the strike while reciting Koranic verses at 1 a.m.

Regarding reports that most of the alleged 90 killed were children, the official said there were not even 50 children in the entire village.

He said the airstrike was on a legitimate target, noting that coalition forces found a weapons cache at the site of the airstrike -- including AK-47s, 4,000 rounds of ammunition, and bomb-making materials -- as well as thousands of dollars in U.S. currency.

Investigators discovered "firm evidence" that the militants had planned to attack a nearby coalition base, the statement said, and the airstrike disrupted that plan.

The investigating officer interviewed more than 30 people -- both Afghans and Americans, the statement said. He also viewed video taken during the engagement, topographic photos of the area before and after, reports from ground and air personnel involved, reports from local medical clinics and hospitals, intelligence reports, and physical data and photographs collected on the site.

The findings were given to General David McKiernan, commander of NATO's International Security Assistance Forces, the coalition said.

All About Afghanistan WarAfghanistanHamid KarzaiThe TalibanInternational Security Assistance Force

  • E-mail
  • Save
  • Print