US military denies killing civilians in Taliban drug lab airstrikes

The United Nations is attacking the U.S., accusing U.S. military forces of unlawfully killing dozens of civilians in a series of airstrikes in May.

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) issued an immediate denial of the U.N.’s accusation, asserting that very few, if any, civilians were actually killed in the long-planned “precision” strikes.

The strikes were targeting a methamphetamine-manufacturing facility that sold the drugs on the international black market and used the proceeds to fund the Taliban’s war effort, according to CBS News.

UN accusations

The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), in conjunction with the U.N. Human Rights Office, claimed in a report that the series of airstrikes on May 5 damaged or destroyed some 60 buildings and that investigators had “verified 39 civilian casualties — 30 deaths, five injured and four ‘undetermined.’ The toll included 14 children and one woman.”

The U.N. groups also claimed to have “credible evidence” that an additional 37 civilian casualties — 30 dead, 7 wounded — also resulted from the airstrikes on the drug-manufacturing operation, though those additional casualties were not confirmed.

The groups further acknowledged that the targets of the airstrikes were buildings where methamphetamine was being produced, and even acknowledged the growing problem of drug addiction in the country. However, they asserted that such facilities — particularly when employing civilian workers — were not legitimate targets for military strikes, and therefore deemed the airstrikes to be unlawful and in violation of international humanitarian laws.

USFOR-A rebuttal

In a statement shared with CBS News, a spokesperson for USFOR-A said, “In addition to imagery collection during the precision strikes, USFOR-A conducted exhaustive assessments of the facilities and surrounding areas after the strikes.”

“Combined assessments determined the strikes did not cause deaths or injuries to non-combatants,” the statement noted, in addition to raising serious questions about the methodology used by the U.N. investigators and dubious manner in which they had obtained the figures compiled in the report.

Stars & Stripes reported that USFOR-A had also revealed that a year-long intelligence operation took place prior to the coordinated airstrikes, that the strikes were purposefully conducted during daylight hours to increase visibility, and detailed procedures were followed to reduce risk to civilians.

The rebuttal noted that the Taliban routinely uses civilians as human shields to guard against airstrikes from U.S. or allied forces, and pointed out that whenever civilians were killed there were thorough investigations and that relatives of the victims were justly compensated.

Time to come home

Though the war in Afghanistan has raged for 18 years now, the Taliban controls just as much, if not more territory in the central Asian nation as it did when U.S. forces first arrived in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attack.

Hopefully, some sort of agreement can soon be reached to end the fighting. It’s taken a horrific toll on military service members and civilians alike.

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