US air power triples deaths of Afghan civilians, says report

Richard Norton-Taylor
London Guardian
Monday, Sept 8, 2008

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan from US and Nato air strikes have nearly tripled over the past year, with the onslaught continuing in 2008 and fuelling a public backlash, a leading human rights group says today.

The report by Human Rights Watch Human Rights Watch says that despite changes in the rules of engagement which had reduced the rate of civilian casualties since a spike in July last year, air strikes killed at least 321 civilians in 2007, compared with at least 116 in 2006. In the first seven months of this year at least 540 Afghan civilians were killed in fighting related to the armed conflict, with at least 119 killed by US or Nato air strikes, such as this July's attack on a wedding party which killed 47, says Human Rights Watch.

"There has been a massive and unprecedented surge in the use of air power in Afghanistan in 2008," the report says. It found that few civilians casualties were the result of planned air strikes on suspected Taliban targets. Instead, most were from air strikes during rapid response missions mostly carried out in support of "troops in contact" - ground troops under insurgent attack. Such strikes included situations where American special forces - normally small in number and lightly armed - came under insurgent attack.

"In response to increased insurgent activity, twice as many tons of bombs were dropped in 2007 than in 2006," the report says. "In 2008, the pace has increased: in the months of June and July alone the US dropped approximately as much as it did in all of 2006. Without improvements in planning, intelligence, targeting, and identifying civilian populations, the massive use of air power in Afghanistan will continue to lead to unacceptably high civilian casualties."

Full article here

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