KABUL — Airstrikes and night raids by U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan have left “thousands” of victims and their families without justice, the human rights group Amnesty International said Monday in a detailed and hard-hitting report.
The report focused on 10 cases of attacks between 2009 and 2013 in which it said 140 Afghan civilians were killed. It said two of the attacks — a U.S. Special Forces raid on a house in Paktia province and related incidents of kidnappings, torture and killings in Wardak province — involved “compelling evidence of war crimes.”
The report was made public at a sensitive time as U.S. and other Western forces continue to withdraw from Afghanistan. A U.S.-Afghan security agreement, which will define the role and rights of residual U.S. forces who remain in Afghanistan after the pullout, has been delayed by problems with Afghanistan’s presidential election. The agreement must be signed by whoever becomes president.
The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force in Kabul said in a statement Tuesday that it remains “committed to protecting the Afghan people” and has worked with Afghan forces to reduce casualties and minimize civilian risk while conducting operations. It said there has been a “significant reduction in ISAF-related civilian casualties,” which have decreased by 77 percent in the past year. ISAF said it also “thoroughly investigates all credible reports” of such casualties when possible.
Visiting officials from Amnesty said they had met with NATO military officials in Kabul in the past two days.
The report criticized the U.S. military justice system, saying it had failed to hold American troops in Afghanistan accountable for abuses. It called on the future Afghan government to ensure that accountability for unlawful civilian killings is “guaranteed” in any future security agreements signed with the United States.
In brief interviews Monday, several survivors and witnesses described some of the alleged coalition attacks investigated by Amnesty researchers. Nader Shah, 37, a farmer in Nangahar province, said five of his relatives had been shooting birds with shotguns one night last fall when they were attacked by U.S. helicopters in their village. He said there had been no Taliban activity in the area.
“We were told that the Americans had technology that could tell who had dangerous weapons or not, but they killed my cousins and my other relatives just for shooting birds,” Shah said, speaking in Pashto. “We heard explosions and people screaming, and we ran and found everyone dead.”
A village leader from Laghman province, Abdul Mana, 30, described a 2012 incident from the report in which a NATO airstrike allegedly killed seven women at night. He said the women had stepped out to gather firewood and were killed by U.S. attack helicopters.
“Everyone in the village recognized that they were American,” Abdul Mana said. He said village leaders had complained to local NATO officials and had met with President Hamid Karzai, who promised compensation to victims’ families. “Those who are behind this should be prosecuted and brought to justice,” Abdul Mana said.
In a statement Monday after Karzai met with Amnesty officials, his office said that he was “happy” they had investigated the incidents and that his “principal focus” in recent years had been to stop such civilian killings. “This has been the major source of tension between our government and our allies,” the statement quoted him as saying.
Olof Blomqvist, an Amnesty official in Kabul, said the group’s most significant conclusion was “the shocking lack of justice and the impunity in cases where people are allegedly killed by U.S. and NATO forces.” The report said U.S. prosecutions for alleged military abuses here have been “extremely rare.”
In one of the few such prosecutions, the U.S. military charged Army Staff Sgt. Robert Bales in the massacre of 16 villagers in Kandahar province, including women and children, in March 2012. He pleaded guilty in a trial at a U.S. military base last year and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.