Military Refutes Casualty Claims

US military officials said last week a review of an air strike conducted on the Afghan village of Azizabad in the western Herat province on Aug. 22 has confirmed that 25 militants, including a Taliban commander, and five civilians were killed, but not up to 90 civilians, including many children, as claimed by UN and Afghan officials. “We did not kill up to 90 civilians as has been alleged,” said one US military official, reported Aug. 29 in the Washington Post. But NATO’s commander there, US Army Gen. David McKiernan, has called for a joint inquiry into the matter with the Afghan government and UN to put to rest the controversy, the newspaper reported in a separate article Aug. 31. Some press reports have claimed that US commanders attacked the village based on bad information. But NATO and US officials have said the air strike was legitimate and took place only after insurgents had ambushed Afghan army commandos and coalition troops during a raid. Adm. Michael Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in the Pentagon Aug. 28 that the US-led coalition does all it can to avoid injuring civilians since such instances set back the coalition’s work. “We work exceptionally hard to make sure that doesn’t happen,” he said. Air commanders in the region have consistently said they go to great lengths to verify targets before striking and are using smaller, precision weapons to avoid air strikes that could cause unintended injury to civilians or damage to structures. There is also evidence that al Qaeda and the Taliban are adept at spreading misinformation to demonize the coalition.