U.S. airstrikes raided the Afghan province of Helmand on Tuesday, February 9th, targeting the Taliban and taking the lives of civilians, according to witness reports. Earlier, 18 deaths were reported due to the raid – consisting mostly of women and children. Now, the number has risen to 22. The raids took place in the Sangin district, where the U.S. conducted a total of 30 airstrikes. Witnesses are concerned that the heavy fighting will escalate further, and contribute to a growing number of civilian deaths. The airstrikes come two weeks after a botched U.S. raid, which was responsible for further civilian deaths.
According to security personnel on the ground, among the deceased victims were 13 people belonging to one family, and 9 people from another. Hameed Gul, who lost 9 of his family members, including his mother and sister, condemned the attack, stating that the U.S. and Afghan military are covering their tracks, and questioned the truth behind the airstrike campaigns. He claims that the attacks on the Taliban are lies. These strike concerns are comparable to similar events in Yemen, surrounding a Special Forces raid approved by President Trump earlier this year. The raid targeted a suspect Al-Qaeda camp – later, medical responders reported 30 civilians dead. Suspect to suggestion is that failed intelligence briefings affected the results of civilian casualties in both Yemen and Afghanistan. Was there adequate intelligence, ground support or sufficient preparedness for President Trump to green light his first counterterrorism operation?
The Afghan military has declined to comment on the controversy, but a government spokesperson stated that the government and military are doing their best to investigate the claims. Haji Ahmand, another local in Sangin, waits in the hospital where the bodies of two young boys and two women belonging to his family are kept. Similar to Hammed Gul, Ahmand expressed his anger against the U.S. and Afghan government for their faulty operations against the Taliban. Haji claimed that there were no terrorist groups near his family’s house, and that the Americans should leave his district after causing such a horrific event. The government, he said, should not hide their mistakes.
Mullah Oasim, a known local Sangin district leader, calls for justice for the victims. He tells reporters, that the Americans need to be made aware that both the Afghan and American governments can no longer ignore children casualties. A United Nations spokesperson asserted that the American and Afghan military are strictly conducting their necessary operations to combat the Taliban. In addition, the U.N. declared that all missions are managed under strict international humanitarian law with practical measures to defend civilians from injuries or deaths in international conflicts.
The Afghan government rejected the claim stating that the targeted areas were safe from any civilians, with no signs of residential housing from three kilometers of the district, and instead expressed that the 60 killed Taliban soldiers in the airstrikes should be seen as a victory. The official failed to comment on how many raids the Afghan troops participated in, compared to the 30 American airstrikes in the span of several weeks.
It seems that the main the concern of the Afghan government is the decreasing number of American ground personnel. With 8,400 out of the 13,300 international troops being American, the U.S. recently announced that 300 marines would be returning to the Helmand province to assist in intelligence briefings and advise the Afghan forces on their efforts to fight against the Taliban. Furthermore, General John W. Nicolson described the conflict as a standstill and that the troops on the ground are requesting for additional aid in their predicament. But should their concerns, rather, deal with the rapid increase of civilian deaths in the country, instead of adding more troops to the battlefield? How is it, that the number of civilian deaths is doubling that which was reported in 2015, if the American and Afghan troops are only targeting Taliban regions? Any counterterrorism operation needs to first consider the health and safety of civilian life before attempting their raids.
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