Saturday, May 9, 2009

US-Afghan Probe: Civilians Killed in Farah Province Battle

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

KABUL, Afghanistan, May 9, 2009 -- A joint Afghan national security forces and coalition forces investigation team continues to examine events surrounding a complex series of Taliban attacks on innocent civilians, ANSF, and coalition forces in Farah province.

Initial joint investigation reports indicate that a large number of Taliban fighters, to include non-Afghans, consolidated on Ganj Abad and Grani villages, and demanded payments from villagers.

Shiwan Taliban fighters then attacked police checkpoints on the road between Farah and Herat and engaged in firefights with the Afghan national police who sustained casualties. At the request of the Provincial governor, Afghan national police, Afghan national army and coalition forces jointly responded in an operation to clear the Taliban fighters out of the villages of Ganj Abad and Grani from where they continued to attack ANSF and coalition forces with heavy fire. Taliban fighters continued to engage with ANSF and coalition forces from multiple locations in and around the villages. As heavy fighting continued over the course of several hours, coalition forces called for close air support on several enemy positions.

The investigation suggests that villagers had taken refuge in a number of houses in each village. Reports also indicate that Taliban fighters deliberately forced villagers into houses from which they then attacked ANSF and coalition forces.

Early Tuesday morning, reports began surfacing with allegations of non-combatant casualties. Coalition and Afghan officials in Kabul then announced the decision to conduct a joint investigation immediately. The joint investigation team deployed to Farah province Wednesday morning and met with Afghan national army, Afghan national police, National Defense Service and local government officials.

The joint investigation team confirms that a number of civilians were killed in the course of the fighting but is unable to determine with certainty which of those casualties were Taliban fighters and which were non-combatants because those killed are all buried.

The investigation team visited three grave sites containing seven individual graves and two mass graves with an indeterminate number of people buried in each mass grave.

Following the fighting, Afghan officials also confirmed the Taliban fighters loaded two trucks with bodies and forced elders to parade them through villages to incite outrage among villagers, and then to proceed to the governor's house.

The joint investigation team strongly condemns the brutality of the Taliban extremists deliberately targeting Afghan civilians and using them as human shields.

Afghan national security forces and coalition forces are committed to protective the lives of Afghan citizens. The Taliban, by contrast, deliberately place civilians in harm's way and callously and cynically manipulate civilian lives for their political purposes.

Additional information will be released after the investigation is completed.

(Report from a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)

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