A US Central Command investigation into a coalition air and ground attack against anti-Afghan government forces in the vicinity of Azizabad in Afghanistan’s Herat Provence on Aug. 22 has determined that a greater number of civilians was killed than previously acknowledged, but that US and Afghan forces acted legitimately. According to a CENTCOM release Oct. 8, coalition ground operations and supporting fire from an AC-130H gunship resulted in the death of 22 anti-coalition insurgents and 33 civilians, including at least 12 children. The civilian count is far more than the six civilians that a prior US-led inquiry recognized, while the newly established insurgent toll is slightly lower. Despite the tragic loss of civilian life, CENTCOM said coalition forces “acted based on credible intelligence, in self-defense, and in accordance with the standing rules of engagement and the law of war.” And the enemy “chose fighting positions in close proximity to civilians,” the release states. Further, allegations that US and Afghan forces violated the ROE or law or war, resulting in the deaths of as many as 90 civilians, are “unsubstantiated,” according to the report’s six-page executive summary. “We are deeply saddened at the loss of innocent life in Azizabad,” said Army Lt. Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, CENTCOM’s acting commander. “We go to great lengths to avoid civilian casualties in Afghanistan in all our operations, but as we have seen all too often, this ruthless enemy routinely surround themselves with innocents.” Air Force Brig. Gen. Michael Callan, vice commander of 17th Air Force and Air Forces Africa, led the investigation, which was commissioned by Army Gen. David McKiernan, the US commander in Afghanistan, after tensions grew between Afghan and US officials over diverging casualty counts after the incident. (For more read yesterday’s Los Angeles Times report and Washington Post report)
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