The death of some 48 civilians and 100 wounded due to a July 1 U.S. bombing of the Afghan village of Uruzgan is emerging as a potentially volatile situation both for the new “warlord-dominated” Afghan government as well as the Bush administration.
The Afghan government warned against any “cover-up” in an ongoing investigation conducted jointly by U.S. and Afghan officials as to what happened that tragic day. U.S. officials have claimed that one of its planes was fired upon by anti-aircraft guns and returned fire by dropping 2,000-pound bombs. Afghan residents say the U.S. mistook the local wedding tradition of firing guns into the air as enemy fire.
According to the BBC, a recent United Nations report “says there was no corroboration of the U.S. claim that the aircraft that launched the attack had first been targeted from the ground.”
The BBC also reported that after the bombing, the U.S. said it needed several weeks to collect evidence and make a full report. “But locals say U.S. officials arrived just hours after the raid, taking photographs and filming the scene and the bodies. The U.N. investigation is also reported to have found that women at the bomb site had their hands tied,” the July 29 story said.
Earlier reports also indicated that the U.S. troops arrived immediately after the bombing. “First they bombed the womenfolk, killing them like animals, then they stormed into the houses and tied the hands of men and women,” said Mohammad Anwar, the brother of the wedding’s host. Anwar is also a senior military commander in neighboring Kandahar, appointed by the current Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
An internal United Nations report, described as “an assessment of relief aid needs” following the bombing, was handed over only to the Afghan and U.S. governments and will not be released to the public. In a July 30 press release, the U.N. said this report “should not be mistaken for a probe of the incident.” The Times of London first reported the existence of the U.N. inquiry.
Department of Defense (DoD) spokesman Lt. Col. David Lapan told the World that the U.S. “preliminary investigation team” from July 3 did not find evidence of anti-aircraft artillery in the area. The investigation’s final report will come out in a few weeks, Lapan said. Lapan could not comment on the U.N. report. “I haven’t seen the report,” he said.
Estimates of the number of civilian casualties due to U.S. bombing in Afghanistan range from 1,000 to over 4,000. In his groundbreaking report, U.S. Prof. Marc Herold culled through the world’s press reports from October-December 2001 and estimated from 3,500-4,000 casualties. CNN, responding to an e-mail question, reported 3,500 casualties on an international broadcast in March.
Even with the July 1 bombing, Lapan said, the Pentagon has never given a number of the casualties but just “accepted the locals’ numbers.”
“Given the track record of the Pentagon’s willingness to deceive the public, the question will be is this an investigation or a cover-up? The U.N. findings and the way they are backpedaling from their initial report would seem to indicate the latter,” said Marilyn Bechtel, international secretary of the Communist Party USA.
Of course, Lapan denied a coverup, calling it “ludicrous.” Meanwhile, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld exonerated the special operations soldiers who killed 15 civilians in a January raid, also in Uruzgan. The soldiers were ordered into an Afghan village, supposedly where suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces hid. There were none there. Assistant Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz recently rationalized the July 1 civilian massacre, stating they had to go after the “bad guys.”
According to public opinion poll researcher Dr. David Miller, from Scotland’s University of Stirling Media Research Institute, U.S. public opinion was significantly less for the U.S. war on terrorism and the bombing of Afghanistan when civilian casualties were mentioned.