Yesterday, while Sec. of State Clinton was expressing “deep regret” over Monday’s civilian deaths in Bala Baluk, US military spokespeople were telling a different story. After similar incidents, one of the usual claims made is that the civilian casualties are inevitable since villagers are “used as human shields by the Taliban” but this time, DOD is spinning at a whole new level, claiming that the Taliban rounded up civilians and killed them with grenades – then loaded the bodies into trucks to use are an anti-American photo op. CNN quickly had Barbara Starr on air repeating the DOD version within hours of the Clinton apology.
Unfortunately for the DOD spinmeisters, the International Committee of the Red Cross has detailed information from the scene – and given the ICRC’s normal reticence and careful neutrality, their credibility certainly beats that of a source that once before attempted to pass off a report from Ollie North that no civilians were killed in a similar attack as a report from a legitimate embedded journalist.
As noted yesterday, the ICRC not only sent investigators after the fact but also had “contacted all sides to warn them that there were civilians and injured people in the area” in advance:
Tribal elders in the villages called the ICRC during the fighting to report civilian casualties and ask for help. As soon as we heard of the attacks we contacted all sides to warn them that there were civilians and injured people in the area."
And their investigating team later concluded:
"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 air strike," said the ICRC’s head of delegation in Kabul, Reto Stocker.
The ICRC has been unable so far to confirm a final death toll but Patrick Cockburn writing from Kabul reports:
A ‘Misdirected US air strike’ has killed as many as 120 Afghans, including dozens of women and children. The attack is the deadliest such bombing involving civilian casualties so far in the eight years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Families in two villages in Farah province in western Afghanistan were yesterday left digging for bodies in the ruins of their mudbrick houses…
Survivors said the number of dead would almost certainly rise as the search for bodies continued…
US Marine Special Forces supporting the Afghan army apparently called in the air strike on Tuesday on two villages in Bala Baluk district after heavy fighting with the Taliban.
And RAWA reports:
Dr Atiqullah, a resident of the village, told Pajhwok Afghan News the bombardment destroyed the whole village and some of the mutilated bodies were beyond recognition.
He said they had so far retrieved 123 dead bodies from beneath the debris of the destroyed homes by using tractors.
Finally, a report in Reuters provides more information on the air strike:
People who survived the bombing of houses packed with terrified civilians told Reuters dozens from one extended family alone had died. They wept as they spoke of orphaned children and burying their loved ones’ fragmented remains.
The air strikes, which lasted about an hour, killed 50 members of Sayed Azam’s extended family, he said.
"There were Taliban in the area, and fierce fighting during the day but it ended when it was dark. People thought the fighting was over when suddenly bombings began."
I wonder if CNN will continue to cover this story – and mention that there was both advance notice of the danger the civilians were in – and that reliable sources contradict the DOD spin?
Update: Robert Fisk says it all – Civilians Pay the Price of War from Above.