Imagine if criminals held 25 hostages in two houses. The police when fired upon as they surround the houses back off and call in bombers or artillery to simply destroy the houses. What would be public reaction if this were done in Canada or the US?
Imagine too that government officials were not asked to approve this tactic.
Imagine also that if the police were asked how many civilians they have killed using these tactics against criminals they replied: We do not keep statistics on this.
Of course the NATO forces did not know there were women and children in the compound but they made no attempt to find out it seems. In fact I expect they did not want to know. They knew that there were up to 30 insurgent fighters and that was what was important to them.
NATO faults Taliban for 25 civilians dead
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO accused Taliban fighters Friday of provoking an airstrike that reportedly killed 25 innocents, including three infants and nine women, while a Dutch general charged that insurgents executed villagers during another battle.
The allegations come amid a new surge of criticism over civilian deaths during attacks by foreign forces — a debate that underlines how the five-year-old war against insurgents is also a struggle for hearts and minds among long-suffering Afghans and voters in NATO nations.
President Hamid Karzai and others have long complained that civilian losses in NATO or U.S.-led operations are undermining the effort to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent a Taliban comeback. The deaths are "difficult for us to accept or understand," Karzai said Thursday.
NATO commanders are adamant that the militants — not foreign forces — deserve most of the blame for the toll among civilians, and said the overnight bloodshed in southern Helmand province was just such a case.
An alliance statement said NATO aircraft struck after Taliban fighters attacked troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force nine miles northeast of the town of Gereshk.
"A compound was assessed to have been occupied by up to 30 insurgent fighters, most of whom were killed in the engagement," the statement said.
Lt. Col. Mike Smith, a NATO spokesman, expressed concern about Afghan police reports that civilians also died in the airstrike. But he said insurgents chose the time and place for their attack, so "the risk to civilians was probably deliberate."
"It is this irresponsible action that may have led to casualties," he said.
The airstrike killed 20 militants, but it also wiped out two civilian families totaling 25 people, including nine women, three babies and a mullah, provincial Police Chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal told The Associated Press.
"NATO was targeting the areas where the (insurgent) fire was coming from ... and two compounds were completely destroyed, and the families living in those compounds were killed," he said.
Military commanders said their forces have to be free to respond to attacks.
"If someone is firing at our troops they have the right to defend themselves and have the right to fire at a position which is firing at them," said another NATO spokesman, Maj. John Thomas. "If the enemy has put themselves in an area where they are firing from among civilians, this is when we sometimes have casualties."
Thomas said NATO forces try to monitor a target from the air and ground for any civilians present. "But in the cases like (Gereshk), when we respond to an ambush or an enemy attack, things move a little bit more quickly," he said.
The police chief said villagers loaded the bodies onto tractor trailers to take them to Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, to prove they were innocent victims. But police turned them back, fearing unrest in town, and the bodies were buried in graves near their village, Andiwal said.
It was impossible to verify his account of what happened in the remote area.
Andiwal also said NATO did not consult with Afghan authorities before the airstrike — a demand repeatedly made by Karzai.
"They never talked with us, no consultation, no discussion," Andiwal said.
If confirmed, the casualties in Gereshk would bring the number of civilians killed in NATO or U.S.-led military operations this year to 177, according to an AP tally of figures provided by Afghan officials and witnesses. Militant attacks, including suicide bombings, have killed 169 civilians.
The Gereshk clash followed reports that dozens of civilians died in fighting earlier this week between Taliban militants and Afghan and Dutch soldiers east of Helmand, in Uruzgan province.
NATO acknowledged Thursday that civilians might have died during the three-day battle to repel an attempt by hundreds of militants to seize Chora district.
On Friday, Gen. Dick Berlijn, commander of the Dutch military, painted the militants as murderous desperadoes.
Taliban fighters tried to force villagers to fight alongside them "and killed citizens who refused — they were hauled out of their houses by the Taliban and executed," Berlijn told reporters in The Hague, Netherlands.
"One police checkpoint commander saw two brothers murdered before his eyes by the Taliban," Berlijn said. Another police report "said that eight women were murdered — they had their throats slashed," he added.
He described the police reports as "solid," but offered no independent confirmation.
The Dutch mission in Afghanistan is due to finish in August 2008 and lawmakers and the government will debate in coming weeks whether to extend their mandate.
After weeks of heated debate in parliament last year, the troops were sent with the primary task of rebuilding the war-shattered country, but Berlijn conceded that work cannot always be carried out.
"The motto of our mission is, 'Rebuild if we can, fight if we must,"' he said. "In recent days in Chora, we have fought."