By Brett Wilkins
A US drone strike intended to destroy an Islamic State hideout instead killed dozens of Afghan farmers on Wednesday night.
Reuters reports 30 pine nut farmers were were resting after a day’s work harvesting a field in the mountainous Wazir Tangi area of eastern Nangarhar province. At least 40 other people were also wounded in the attack. Both the Afghan Defense Ministry and at least one senior US official confirmed the strike, but neither would discuss details of civilian casualties.
“US forces conducted a drone strike against [IS] terrorists in Nangarhar,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan. “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.”
Survivors said around 200 workers were present at the site of the strike. “The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them,” tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul told Reuters.
“Some of us managed to escape, some were injured but many were killed,” said Juma Gul, one of the farmers.
The latest US attack sparked outrage among local residents and officials.
“Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realize (they) will never win the war by killing innocent civilians,” Javed Mansur, a resident of the provincial capital, Jalalabad, told Reuters.
Both Afghan and US forces have sustained air strikes targeting Islamist militants including the Taliban, IS and al-Qaeda as talks between the United States and the Taliban aimed at ending America’s 18-year war in Afghanistan have largely stalled in recent weeks. Taliban attacks, including a series of high-casualty suicide bombings, have killed scores of civilians lately. On Thursday, 20 people were killed and 97 wounded when a powerful suicide truck bomb exploded outside a hospital in Qalat, the capital of southern Zabul province, and earlier this month another suicide bomb attack, this one on an international compound in the capital city of Kabul, killed 16 people and wounded 119 others, almost all of them civilians. At least 16 US troops have also been killed so far this year in Afghanistan.
According to the United Nations, nearly 4,000 Afghans have been killed or wounded during the first half of 2019. In April, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) released a report revealing that during the first three months of 2019, the Afghan military and US-led coalition forces had killed more civilians than the Taliban and other allied militants.
Civilian casualties have soared in nearly all of the seven countries under attack by the United States in its open-ended anti-terrorism campaign. The current administration has demonstrated what some critics call a criminal disregard for civilian life. While campaigning for president in 2015, Donald Trump said he would “bomb the shit out of” Islamic State militants and kill their families. His administration has fulfilled that promise, loosening rules of engagement meant to protect civilians and resulting in the deaths of thousands of Iraqi, and most recently, Syrian civilians from US-led bombing.
Earlier this year, President Trump also signed an executive order revoking an Obama-era requirement that the director of national intelligence publish an annual report on civilian deaths caused by drone strikes in areas “outside of war zones” that are nevertheless under US attack, including Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and Libya.
When the International Criminal Court (ICC) announced in December 2017 that it would seek an investigation of alleged war crimes committed by US troops in Afghanistan, the Trump administration responded with a pressure campaign that included prohibiting ICC members involved in the probe from entering the United States. The ICC subsequently decided against investigating US forces.
While it is impossible to say exactly how many civilians have been killed since the beginning of the post-9/11 US-led global war on terror – as General Tommy Franks infamously declared during the early days of the Iraq war, “we don’t do body counts” – credible death toll estimates range from conservative figures of around half a million to possibly more than 2 million. Since waging the world’s only nuclear war against a defeated Japan in 1945, the US military has killed more foreign civilians than any other armed force in the world, by far.