Survivors of 23 civilians killed in airstrikes demand justice

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KANDAHAR: The sole survivor of an erroneous airstrike, Saleh Mohammad demands justice from Afghan officials after losing 18 members of his family in southwestern Nimroz province. 
Eighteen members of his family were killed in the airstrike conducted by Afghan forces in Munazari village of Khashrod district of Nimroz province last Saturday.
“Please see! Do these children and women look like the Taliban. If you are the truth seekers, please look which one of them is Talib,” bellowed devastated Mohammad as he was witnessing the corpses of his family members brought to Zaranj city, the capital of Nimroz province.
Abdul Shakoor, Mohammad’s neighbor, said that all the people killed were civilians and had no connection with the Taliban or government.
“All these 18 people killed belonged to a single family. A grave injustice has happened,” he said.
Meanwhile, Nimroz provincial council head, Baaz Mohammad Naser, also condemned the attack as a severe crime and injustice, saying civilian lives should be paid serious caution during the war.
Ahmad, another member of the victim’s family who was injured in the incident, said, “I lost consciousness at the time of the attack. I woke up in a hospital and then I got to know what misery has befallen my family.”
Khashrod district residents say that they were caught between Taliban threats and government bombardments and had no way to escape.
They implore the government and Taliban to be cautious about civilian lives.
Nimroz local administration and security organs refused to comment on the incident. However, a few days back, the Afghan National Army (ANA) ‘s 215th Maiwand Military Corps had said that they targeted a Taliban custom post on Nimroz-Herat highway and inflicted casualties on the insurgents. 
But the Taliban rejected the claims as baseless, saying the attack happened in a non-combat area and targeted only civilian locations. 
This comes as civilian casualties have recently been on the rise. In December last year, US researchers said Afghan civilian deaths from foreign airstrikes conducted by the US and its allies shot up by 330 percent since 2017.
According to Brown University’s Costs of War Project, about 700 Afghan civilians were killed in raids by the US and allies in 2019 alone. The study also noted an increase in Afghan forces’ aerial attacks since the US and Taliban inked a peace pact on February 29.
Eighty-six civilians were killed and 103 others wounded in strikes by the Afghan military in the first half of 2020, the study added.
On the other hand, in a similar attack, five children were killed and five others wounded in Bushran area of Lashkargah, the capital of southern Helmand province, on January 7.
The airstrike was carried out on the house owned by a civilian named Jumma Khan. Local people say the dead included two girls and three boys.
Jumma Khan’s wife, two sons and two daughters were injured in the incident but were evacuated to a nearby healthcare center with access to only primary health services due to blockade of roads to the provincial civil hospitals.
Helmand provincial council head Attaullah Afghan confirmed that the attack was carried out by Afghan Air Forces.
“There was a Taliban hideout near the house of Jumma Khan, Afghan forces wanted to attack it, but the house was also targeted in the incident,” he said.
He asked the Taliban to keep their hideouts away from civilian areas, adding the government should also be careful about noncombatants’ lives.
Helmand Governor Abdul Nabi Elham has ordered a thorough investigation into the incident and expressed devastation over civilian losses.
Abdul Haq Zwakman, a civil society activist in Lashkargah city, termed attacks on civilians as crimes and asked conflict parties to avoid using civilian houses as their shelters.
Afghan and foreign forces haven’t commented so far on this incident. However, the Taliban say that the attack was carried out by US forces. The Taliban warned that such attacks violated the Doha agreement and would respond if more of such acts were repeated.
On the other hand, the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC), while condemning the recent flawed airstrikes, demanded assurances from security organs that such incidents won’t happen again. 
It also demanded that the results of investigations into these incidents should be made public and the victims adequately compensated. 
Besides, the civilian casualties sparked ringing denunciation from multiple quarters. Mesharano Jirga members asked all parties to the Afghanistan conflict to stop slaughtering innocent people for their interests. Referring to the killing of 18 family members in the Khashrud district of Nimroz province, lawmakers said the Taliban and the US were involved in the crime.
Meanwhile, President Ashraf Ghani has ordered security officials to conduct a thorough investigation and share the findings with his office. “I order [security personnel] to exercise utmost caution during their operations to prevent civilian casualties.” 
He cited the usage of people and public spaces as shields by the Taliban and other terrorist groups as the main driver for civilian casualties.