Afghan authorities have begun investigating an air raid in the Nimroz province which killed at least fifteen civilians. According to Al Jazeera, Afghanistan’s government carried out two airstrikes on the night of January 9th. The first strike killed six Taliban fighters, while the second took the lives of at least fifteen innocent civilians, including women and children. The second strike’s victims are all reportedly members of the same family, with a death toll ranging from fifteen to eighteen. An unnamed official said the house targeted in the second strike belonged to a Taliban commander, but forces were unaware that civilians were inside.
“Eighteen members of my family were martyred. They were found in pieces. Who among them are the Taliban members?” Saleh Mohammad, a relative of the victims, asked Tolonews. This sentiment was echoed by Mir Hatim, another relative who spoke to N.B.C. “Why did they attack us, we’re not terrorists or Taliban fighters … what’s our crime?” Hatim asked. Other relatives reportedly said that those responsible for the tragedy should be punished.
Afghan president Ashraf Ghani said he was “deeply saddened” by the civilian casualties and urged authorities to thoroughly investigate, but placed responsibility for the deaths on the Taliban. “The Taliban and other terrorist groups are often using the people’s houses as shields and are the main cause of misfortunes during a war,” Ghani said in a statement.
Taliban spokesman Qari Muhammad Yousuf Ahmadi denied that the second airstrike had killed any of the group’s members, affirming that all the victims were civilians and part of the same family.
This tragedy comes during the second round of talks between representatives from the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha, Qatar, where issues such as power-sharing and a ceasefire are expected to be discussed. United States diplomats have also reportedly been speaking independently with both sides.
The Doha peace talks could be historic, bringing more stability to the country and avoiding tragedies like this. According to a report by The United Nations Assistance Mission for Afghanistan, 2,117 civilians were killed and 3,822 were wounded in the first nine months of 2020. Of these civilian casualties, the report says, about eight percent were caused by airstrikes carried out by Afghanistan’s government.
Six Taliban members may have been killed in the first January 9th airstrike. Was it worth the lives of over a dozen innocents? When a government kills its own civilians, the tragedy can radicalize those who believe that no investigation can truly right that wrong. After all, it is unlikely that the investigation of these strikes will change how the government vets its airstrike targets. These wrongful deaths may inflame tensions, bring further instability to the region, and bring about even more unnecessary slaughter.
Civilian casualties, whether they be from airstrike or drone strike, seem to happen constantly in the Middle East. Whether in Yemen, Pakistan, or Afghanistan, people should not have to live in fear of death from above. Sustained pressure from domestic and international actors may be needed before Afghanistan’s government will make meaningful change.