by Charles Lemos, Wed May 06, 2009 at 09:15:47 PM EDT
Casting a pall over the Af-Pak Summit is news out of the western Afghan province of Farah that a misdirected US air strike has killed as many as 120 Afghans, including dozens of women and children, in a community called Bala Baluk. The attack is the deadliest such bombing involving civilian casualties so far in the eight years since the US-led NATO invasion and occupation of Afghanistan surpassing the 90 civilians killed in Azizabad in nearby Herat province last August. Figures from the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, released in late 2008, suggest that about 750 civilians were killed by NATO forces in all of 2008, the majority of these by errant air strikes.
However, Defense Department officials are questioning whether the dead in Bala Baluk were the result of errant air strike or if they were killed by the Taliban who attempted to pin the deaths on air strike. US official said late Wednesday that investigators were looking into witnesses' reports that the Afghan civilians were killed by grenades hurled by Taliban militants, and that the militants then drove the bodies around the village claiming the dead were victims of an American air strike. More from the New York Times:
The initial examination of the site and of some of the bodies suggested the use of armaments more like grenades than the much larger bombs used by attack planes, said the military official, who requested anonymity because the investigation was continuing.
"We cannot confirm the report that the Taliban executed these people," said Capt. John Kirby, the spokesman for the Joint Chiefs of Staff at the Pentagon. "We don't know if it's true, and we also don't know how many civilians were killed as a result of this operation."
Col. Greg Julian, a spokesman for the United States military in Kabul, confirmed that United States Special Operations forces had called in close air support in the area on Monday night, including bombs and strafing with heavy machine guns. "There is a heavy insurgent presence there," he said.
We now face a situation where the civilian population is not only being used as human shields but also a props in a propaganda war. The killing of so many Afghan civilians by US aircraft only infuriates Afghans and leads to an increase in support for the Taliban. The bottom line is that there is no margin for error in Afghanistan and to fight a war under such conditions is simply not possible.