Foreign troops’ bloody re-entry to Afghan battlefield

On 3 November 2016, in an US airstrike in Kunduz province, 32 civilians including many children died, 20 others were injured, and several residences were destroyed.

The airstrike was carried out after two American soldiers were killed during a joint operation with the Afghan forces, in this province, and the local people have presumed it as a vengeance attack.

Releasing a report, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has said that in five days (from 30 October to 5 November 2016), at least 95 civilians were killed and 111 civilians were wounded. Most of the responsibility for these civilian casualties goes to foreign forces and this situation raises concerns about their return to the battlefield in Afghanistan.

In the past one and half decade, tens of thousands of civilians were killed in Afghanistan and according to the statistics of the United Nations, from 2007 to 2015, there was a total number of 62375 civilians either killed or wounded in the war in Afghanistan[1]. All parties of the war (the Taliban, the Afghan government and foreign forces) share responsibility for the fatalities of innocent lives. The statistics of UNAMA mostly distributes the responsibility for civilian casualties to the Taliban but civilian and the Afghan forces’ casualties in the airstrikes carried out by foreign forces were also a controversial issue in the past 15 years and has been the main reason behind the opposition of the former Afghan President Hamid Karzai with the United States.

The question is why is the NUG silent against the bloody airstrikes and the casualties of the Afghan forces and civilians in foreign forces’ attacks?


The Killing of Civilians and Afghan Security Forces

The first airstrike of the foreign forces, which resulted in mass killing, was an attack on a wedding ceremony in Urozgan where dozens were killed including the bride. At that time backing the US forces, the Afghan government officials had said that Mullah Baradar was in the wedding and the bride was his relatives; but later it was cleared that the victims of that incident were relatives of those who had helped Hamid Karzai during overthrow of the Taliban regime. From 2001 to 2014, such incidents kept repeated and in recent years of Karzai’s rule, it triggered his anger towards Americans.

After the formation of the NUG, foreign forces, particularly after returning to the battleground and resuming night raids have repeatedly targeted the Afghan forces and civilians and have caused heavy casualties.

In July 2015, the US helicopters attacked on an Afghan military base and killed and wounded a number of Afghan forces while no military operation was active in the region[2]. According to official reports, nine Afghan soldiers dressed in the Afghan army uniforms were killed and six others were injured. In September 2016, the Afghan security officials in Uruzgan province announced that eight Afghan police soldiers were killed in an arbitrary operation of foreign forces[3]. After some days, 17 Afghan national army soldiers and 6 Afghan police soldiers were killed in a US airstrike in Nad Ali district, Helmand province.[4]

Afghan civilians were also killed in such attacks. In the beginning of October 2015, after the collapse of Kunduz city at the hands of the Taliban, 42 Afghan civilians were killed and several others were injured in an airstrike by foreign forces on a MSF hospital[5]. In another incident one month ago, 27 civilians were killed and wounded in a US airstrike in Nangarhar province[6]. The Kunduz incident is also one of these incidents in which civilians were targeted by foreign forces.


Why is the Afghan government silent about such incidents?

The NUG has never condemned such attacks nor has it reacted in response to the irresponsible attacks of the foreign forces and even in some occasions the spokespersons of the NUG have justified these attacks.

In response to the recent incident in Kunduz, which had raised national and international reactions, releasing a statement, the Afghan Presidential Palace though termed this attack a “humanitarian catastrophe” but has had no indication to foreign forces and their commitments to protect civilians and has even somehow justified the attack[7]. In its statement, the Afghan Chief Executive’s Office also without raising finger toward foreign forces has said that the attack was carried out on the Taliban strongholds and that its responsibility goes to the Taliban. [8]

The statements of the Afghan Presidential Palace and Chief Executive Office in relation to such incidents only signify the weakness and lack of willingness in the highest ranks of the Afghan government to protect its citizens. These statements are rather similar to the statement of the American forces that they release after such incidents and in which they regret killing innocent individuals and sympathize with the families of victims.

In these statements, the Afghan government does not point out the commitments of the US forces in Bilateral Security Agreement with Afghanistan and only demands from US forces indirectly and very gently to be completely careful in the future so that such incidents may not be repeated. These phrases mean that the US troops have been careful but they need to be more careful.

The reason behind this weakness and silence of the Afghan government in such incidents is the financial and military support of the United States and the NATO from the NUG. This government was created as a result of the US intervention in Afghanistan and is even from the beginning it is formed in a way that it should not create obstacles on the way of the US long-term objectives in the region. Therefore, the NUG sees its survival in silence in such incidents.


National and international reactions to the Kunduz incident

Despite the strategic silence of the Afghan government, the bloody strike of the foreign forces in Kunduz has sparked national and international responses.

In response to this incident, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General and Head of UNAMA said, “The loss of civilian life is unacceptable and undermines efforts toward building peace and stability in Afghanistan”. Releasing a statement, UNAMA said that it will conduct an “independent” and “impartial” investigation about the civilian casualties in Kunduz and urged the Afghan authorities to “ensure” an independent, impartial and prompt investigation. [9]

On the other hand, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has also condemned the Kunduz incident and has demanded impartial investigations. According to Russian officials, it is not the first time that, innocent civilians are targeted in Afghanistan, but such incidents had repeatedly occurred in the past as well and if those responsible for such incidents were punished, such incidents would not be repeated.

Russia has reacted against the US airstrike on civilians in Kunduz while its relations with the United States are tenuous over regional issues particularly in Syria. Washington has also criticized Russia for carrying out airstrikes in Halab city of Syria and killing civilians.

The Kunduz incident has sparked reactions inside the country as well. The former Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Wolesi Jirga (lower house of the Afghan Parliament), Meshrano Jirga (upper house of the Afghan Parliament) and the Afghan civil society have condemned the incident and even some parliament members have demanded to revoke security agreement with the United States.


Consequences of civilian killings

Killing civilians may be justifiable once or twice as “mistake”, but considering the past 15 years, repeatedly killing civilians and justifying it as “mistake” would not be acceptable to people.

One of the factors that have resulted to the continuation of such incidents is not punishing those responsible of such incidents. If an Afghan soldier is punished for killing foreign forces then measures must also be taken against foreign soldiers that carry out such attacks. Such dual approach and justifying such attacks would increase distance between the Afghan government and the people.

Generally, beside harsh reactions, killing innocent civilians also triggers disgust and hatred against the perpetrators of such events and plays a significant role in the continuation of conflict in the country.

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