In early November, U.S. and Afghan forces massacred dozens of civilians, and wounded far more, during a military operation in Buz-e Kandahari, a village in Kunduz. Now, more than two months later, the U.S. military has released a sparsely detailed report exonerating itself for the killing of innocents.
A U.S. military investigation published Thursday acknowledges the high death toll. “The investigation determined, regretfully, that 33 civilians were killed and 27 wounded,” the report states. But a local official told the Associated Press that the U.S. military’s official death count is low. "More than 50 people, including women and children, were killed in the Afghan and U.S. forces' attack in Buz-e Kandahari," said Toryalia Kakar, a deputy provincial council member, journalist Rahim Faiez reports.
The U.S. report goes on to claim that the individuals were killed in “self defense,” but does not provide evidence to confirm its narrative. According to the account, the operation was “carried out by Afghan special operation forces with a smaller U.S. element to provide advice and assistance” to target “Taliban leaders.” The military acknowledges that it provided “aerial fire support,” in addition to on-the-ground forces.
“To defend themselves and Afghan forces, U.S. forces returned fire in self-defense at Taliban who were using civilian houses as firing positions,” the report states. Remarkably, the probe claims “that no civilians were seen or identified in the course of the battle.”
Laila is a co-founder of Afghans United for Justice who requested for security reasons that AlterNet use only her first name. She said, “I absolutely do not believe that they did not know that civilians were inside. The civilians’ stories, lives or even names, none of what tells their human story is shared or acknowledged, but just another total number of deaths jumbled in one. This is how they have been treating Afghan civilians, like objects to discard when in their way.”
The report determined that the forces responsible for the civilian deaths did not use excessive force. “The investigation concluded that U.S. air assets used the minimum amount of force required to neutralize the various threats from the civilian buildings and protect friendly forces,” the probe states, continuing: “The investigation concluded that U.S. forces acted in self-defense, in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict, and in accordance with all applicable regulations and policy.”
Laila said, “This is a war crime that we absolutely condemn. A mass murder of civilians was committed by U.S.-led operations with no accountability or compensation for the victims’ families or the injured. Airstrikes and shooting by the U.S.-Afghan operation against civilian homes used by insurgents should have called off the battle for the protection of civilians trapped inside. International Humanitarian Law states that civilians should be protected in all circumstances.”
This is not the first time that the U.S. military has exonerated itself for an atrocity it has perpetrated in Kunduz. In October 2015, the U.S. military carried out a massacre targeting a MÃ©decins Sans FrontiÃ¨res facility in Kunduz. Forty-two civilians were killed in the attack, which was condemned globally. MSF testified that, “Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.”
Yet high-level American officials did not face any meaningful consequences, and U.S. forces avoided an independent investigation under the Geneva Conventions. Last year, the Pentagon released a heavily redacted internal investigation in which it cleared itself of war crimes related to the mass killing.
Suraia Sahar, an organizer with Afghans United for Justice, told AlterNet, "The fact alone this is the same area where U.S.-Afghan operations murdered 42 people in a hospital airstrike against MSF, unethically prohibiting an independent investigation to war crimes, makes this current investigation a blatant display of the extension of their cruelty."
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