Remember all those promises from US commanders in Afghanistan, the promises made after each killing of large numbers of Afghan civilians, sometimes by air strikes, sometimes by ground forces during raids? After each incident – at least as far back as July 2007 – the commanders issue new pledges that US forces will change their rules of engagement, will take more care, will be more cautious to avoid more murders of Afghan civilians. In fact in April, Defense Secretary Gates said:
"General McKiernan has taken some significant steps in terms of changing the way we go about our operations in Afghanistan, including by the Special Forces, to try and take even further measures to avoid civilian casualties and to avoid antagonizing the local population. This is something I worry about a lot. If we lose the Afghan people, we have lost the war," he said.
Of course, he made the same pledge back in September when he said that "While no military has ever done more to prevent civilian casualties, it is clear that we have to work even harder."
Yet once again, all those regrets and promises and pledges have proven to be worthless as news of the latest mass killing of civilians emerges from “Bala Baluk, a Taliban-controlled area in Farah province near the border with Iran.”
Afghan officials estimated that at least 30 and possibly more than 100 died in the attack on Bala Baluk, a Taliban-controlled area in Farah province near the border with Iran. If confirmed, it could be one of the highest civilian death tolls since the US-backed invasion in 2001.
Villagers brought truckloads of bodies, most of them women and children, to the provincial capital.
There were conflicting accounts last night about what had happened. One accounted suggested children, women and the elderly had gone to the village of Gerani to escape fighting between the Taliban and the Afghan National Army (ANA) but the compounds they sheltered in had been bombed.
Amongst those killed:
"We know that those killed included an Afghan Red Crescent volunteer and 13 members of his family who had been sheltering from fighting in a house that was bombed in an airstrike," said Reto Stocker, the ICRC’s head of delegation in the Afghan capital, Kabul.
The final death toll of civilians is still unclear – the BBC reports that the Red Cross teams who have gone to the village puts the number at “dozens of civilians including women and children. The organisation says the civilians were sheltering from fighting in the province of Farah when their houses were struck.” The BBC World Service overnight broadcast an interview with Jessica Barry, a Red Cross official in Kabul, who stated that the ICRC was notified by local leaders while the fighting was going on that civilians were sheltering in houses—and the ICRC was warning international forces to take care to protect these civilians. The Afghan news service Quqnoos says the possible number could be as high as 120:
A fatal US-led air strike has killed some 120 non-combatants Monday night in Farah Province, locals said
Locals have taken more than 20 bodies, including kids and women to the provincial capital, Farah city, an evidence to reveal the brutality of the operation.
Farah Governor, Rohul-Amin confirms the casualties of an enormous unclear number of local residents, but he lacks information to put across an exact figure.
Afghan President Karzai, who is in the US to meet with Congress and President Obama, has ordered an investigation, and a US commander has been sent to investigate. We know what comes next: a statement of regret, some condolence money, and yet another promise to be more careful in the future—a promise which recent history tells us will once again be broken.
Update: The broken record plays on. This time the statement of regret comes from Secretary of State Clinton as seen above.