According to the people interviewed by UNAMA, the UN News Center reports, the military operations lasted several hours during which air strikes were called in. "The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others. Local residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims," the mission said. The killings took place in Heratís Shindand district.
The attack makes it "almost certainly the deadliest case of civilian casualties caused by any United States military operation in Afghanistan since 2001," according to The Times.
Civilian deaths at NATO's and American forces' hands have been a grave, recurring problem in Afghanistan in the last 18 months. Humanely speaking, they're exacting an irreparable and reprehensible toll on the civilian population. Tactically speaking, they're severely damaging the purpose and credibility of the American-led military presence in Afghanistan in Afghans' eyes. They're elevating the status of the brutal Taliban as defender of the people against an indiscriminate foreign intruder. And they're making the Americans look much less like a peacekeeping force and much more like an occupation force. Not only is the American strategy not winning the war in Afghanistan. It risks losing the very hearts and minds of an Afghan population it cannot afford to lose, if the effort isn't to turn into a cause as lost as the Soviets' in the 1980s or that of the British in two previous attempt to control the country.
The American military's response to claims of a civilian massacre have been characteristically evasive. So far the military has acknowledged "only that 25 militants and five civilians were killed in the air strikes, which were aimed at a Taliban named Mullah Saddiq," The Times writes. The military's story: U.S. forces got a tip that militants were gathering at the site of the bombing. The locals' story: families from a particular tribe had gathered for a funeral the next day. What may have happened, as so often happens in Afghanistan, is that a rival tribe passed on false information to the American military, hoping for exactly the result that ensued. It wouldn't be the first time. Rival tribes have often manipulated American and NATO forces into firefights and bombings by means of clobbering each other. It's also how many individuals ended up in American custody, in Afghanistan's notoriously brutal American prisons or in Guantanamo Bay--through the slanderous tips of personal enemies. The American military appears to have neither the expertise nor the will, with its dragnet tactics, of distinguishing between valid and fraudulent tips.
Last month, "Nine Afghan police officers were killed," The Times reported, "and five others were wounded in western Afghanistan when a convoy of Afghan and United States forces called in airstrikes on the officers, thinking they were militants."
Three weeks earlier, the paper reported: "In what has become a dolefully familiar episode, local Afghan officials reported Saturday that dozens of civilians, and perhaps a great many more, were killed during United States-led coalition airstrikes, this time in the Grishk district of the southern province of Helmand, where dozens of civilians died under similar circumstances last week."
Last week's killings add to the pattern.
None of this was in evidence on the United States Central Command's Web site this week. The top story there today: "Formerly violent Afghan district dubbed 'peaceful'." Tell that to the survivors of Shindand district.