NATO probes claim 64 civilians killed in Afghanistan operation

An Afghan official claims 64 civilians have been killed in NATO-led operations in the northeast of Afghanistan over the past few days. NATO denies the accusations, but has conceded to further investigate, with local ministries and the ISAF.

Fifteen men, 20 women and 29 children were killed during operations in Ghazi Abad district in the past four days, said General Khalilullah Ziayi, police chief of Kunar province, as quoted by the Associated Press.

Eight civilians are being treated in a local hospital, some of them suffering from shrapnel wounds, AP reports.

NATO has officially confirmed its troops were involved in the ground and air operations, but denied civilian killings. Their operation center claims 36 armed insurgents were killed, according to AP. Nevertheless, an investigation group was dispatched on Sunday to look into the claims.

Monday brought NATO’s official response to the accusation that 64 civilians were killed in the Kunar operation. NATO military spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz said that after viewing the video evidence it was concluded, first, that there were no children involved in the attack and, second, the assaulted Afghans were "assessed to be men due to the fact that they were armed and moving in tactical formations," as quoted by AP.

Intelligence data has also been revealed. During the operation, conversations between insurgents were intercepted, including one man saying "call government officials and tell them that civilians are being killed so the coalition will stop shooting us," AP reports.

Still, Brigadier General Blotz supported further, joint investigation of the incident. "Only this morning a joint investigation team consisting of representatives from the ISAF [International Security Assistance Force], the Afghan MOD [Ministry of Defence] and MOI [Ministry of Interior] is going to deploy to Kunar," he was cited as saying by AP.

The toll of civilian deaths in Afghanistan has grown recently, and the deaths are increasingly attributed to pro-government forces. Daoud Sultanzoy, member of the Afghan parliament, explains it by the fact that the insurgents always hide in civilian areas and use civilians as their shields.

The insurgents actually gain from civilian casualties using them to control public opinion, Sultanzoy says.

“Most of them [insurgents] are local Taliban and when this kind of situation takes place, they go to the remaining family members of the dead and disaffected people and try to recruit. This is a very easy way to recruit people,” Sultanzoy says.

The only way to prevent the recruitment and further civilian deaths, Sultanzoy believes, is to educate the civilians and isolate them from the militants.

“It is ugly or no one wins, but the insurgency thrives on the mistakes of the government and of the international community,” said the Afghan parliamentarian. “Civilian casualties are the perfect mistakes for them to thrive on and to seize upon news to change public opinion in their favor. Government inefficiency and other problems also add to that.”

“This is something that the international community and the Afghan government have to cope with and learn from,” he concluded. “And we also have to try to isolate the population from the insurgency.”