On November 4th the U.S. launched an air strike targeting Kunduz, Afghanistan. The United Nations reported that there were at least 10 civilian deaths, contradicting a statement by the U.S. that declared there were none.
An investigation in Afghanistan by the United Nations Assistance Mission conducted interviews with survivors of the air strike, medics and relevant others. These first-hand accounts provided strong evidence that there were at least 10 civilian fatalities during the attack.
In response to the controversy, the U.S. stood by their previous statement. They released the results of their investigation quickly, claiming that the only deaths and injuries were to Taliban insurgents. A spokesman for the U.S. military, Captain Tom Gresback, said that “U.S. Forces Afghanistan will examine and consider any credible evidence when allegations of civilian casualties are presented.” He added that they are taking the allegations of civilian fatalities seriously and that the military strives to prevent and mitigate the “loss of civilian life.”
The US have increased the number of airstrikes in Afghanistan due to a new strategy by President Trump. It is reported that the U.S. air force dropped about 900 munitions in August and September, compared to 260 over the same months in 2016.
Previously in September, U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said that military commanders would have “greater freedom to use American firepower against the Taliban.” In addition, they must continue to do everything possible to avoid civilian casualties. Though it is commendable to avoid civilian casualties, perhaps a better alternative would be to encourage diplomacy rather than increased violent military action.
The lack of clarity surrounding this issue is also present in a series of other similar events. Over the past two years, there have been at least four airstrikes in the area that have resulted in questioning about the number of civilian fatalities. As the United States increases military action against the Taliban and other violent groups, the number of civilian casualties becomes more difficult to calculate. The United Nations reported that there has been an estimated 52% increase in the number of civilian casualties caused by air strikes in 2017 so far. Currently the estimated total is 205 deaths and innumerable injuries.
The President of Afghanistan, Ashraf Ghani, has made no public comment so far. However, the local provincial governor claimed that 48 militants were killed but no civilians.
Though it is difficult to conclude how many citizens were actually killed, it is important to note that over the past few decades the United Nations has proved itself to be a consistently reliable and credible source for reporting the details and impacts of various conflicts.