Report Scores Civilian Deaths, Shortcomings in U.S./NATO Afghan Air Ops

 - September 16, 2008, 11:54 AM

A report by the international Human Rights Watch (HRW) organization has put further pressure on U.S. and NATO air staffs and troops conducting air strikes in Afghanistan. “The combination of light ground forces and overwhelming air power...has resulted in large numbers of civilian casualties,” according to the report, titled “Troops in Contact.” HRW estimates that between January 2006 and this past July, 556 civilians have been killed in 47 air strikes in Afghanistan. NATO and U.S. Central Command dispute these figures, but the report’s contention that the air strikes have “undermined public confidence in both the Afghan government and its international backers” cannot be denied. HRW said there have been no casualties in pre-planned missions. The casualties mostly resulted from rapid-response strikes to support ground troops under attack. HRW said that most casualties occurred in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) missions led by the U.S, rather than NATO-led missions conducted by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). This is because OEF “is heavily reliant on operations led by special forces...and is governed by a different operational mandate and rules of engagement than ISAF,” the report alleges. HRW concedes that Taliban and other insurgent forces were responsible for more civilian casualties than U.S. and NATO forces. At the Dubai Air Show last December, an ISAF officer said he sought better targeting equipment for the troops that call in air strikes over Afghanistan.