Coalition Denies Afghan Strike Caused Civilian Casualties
By John D. Banusiewicz
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 20, 2004 The coalition military command in Afghanistan today denied reports that a weekend air strike in the country's Oruzgan province killed children and other innocent civilians.
Combined Forces Command Afghanistan officials said that while "coalition forces did engage five armed adult males who were fleeing from a known terrorist compound," the command has "no indications that civilians were killed in that incident," according to a written statement issued as a news release from U.S. Central Command.
News agencies have reported a claim by Afghan officials that the strike killed four men, four children and three women, none of whom had any connection with the Taliban or other coalition enemies.
The command statement provided a detailed coalition account of the incident, and attributed reports of civilian casualties to a common Taliban tactic. "Typically, the Taliban are attempting to spread disinformation, propaganda, in order to discredit the coalition," the statement said.
Details of reports alleging civilian casualties don't match up with the facts, according to the coalition. Among those erroneous details are the time of the attack, that helicopters were present, and that the attack destroyed a house and targeted noncombatants.
The coalition's account said officials received intelligence the evening of Jan. 17 that mid-level Taliban members had gathered at a compound in the province's Cahar Cineh Valley. Special operations forces and Afghan militia were sent to capture or kill the Taliban leaders at that compound.
At about 8 p.m., the statement said, five armed men were seen leaving the compound and moving toward the coalition forces who had cordoned off the compound. The commander on the ground verified that the men were armed and moving toward coalition forces, and at about 8:12 p.m. a coalition aircraft engaged them in a streambed.
Other armed personnel then came out of nearby compounds and gathered near the streambed, the coalition statement continued. "In order to avoid a larger engagement in the area of the compounds that might incur civilian casualties, our forces halted and observed the activity from secure positions," the statement said.
The next day, coalition forces searched a number of compounds and the streambed without finding anything of significance. In the course of 72 hours of operations in the area, the statement said, six people were detained.
The statement said the allegations of civilian casualties prompted coalition officials to review the incident, but that the review yielded no indication that civilians were involved.
"The coalition's long-term commitment to the people of Afghanistan is unwavering," the statement said. "While we continue to destroy terrorist organizations and their infrastructure, we enable and assist the accelerated growth of Afghan political, civil and military institutions."