First Reported Massacre of Afghan Civilians Under Trump Takes at Least 18 Lives

The U.S. military has repeatedly dodged responsibility for war crimes committed during its protracted occupation.

Photo Credit: GTS Productions / Shutterstock.com

As the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan extends into its third presidential administration, the United Nations and local residents say that American forces appear to have waged another mass killing of civilians, this time in the Sangin District of Helmand Province.

The United Nations reports that on February 9 and 10, “international military forces conducted airstrikes in Helmand's Sangin District reportedly targeting anti-government elements, according to a news release. UNAMA's initial enquiries suggest that the airstrikes killed at least 18 civilians, nearly all women and children.”

Elders from the district put the number of dead at 22, reporting that numerous women and children were among those slain.

“My elder brother and I traveled to the village to find out how our mother, brothers and sister have been killed,” Hameed Gul told the New York Times. “When we arrived, the villagers were digging them out of the debris.” Gul, 18, who lives in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, said nine of his family members were killed in the bombings, including his five-year-old sister, Naz Bibi, and his infant niece.

Laila, cofounder of Afghans United for Justice, told AlterNet, “We are deeply saddened constantly by the continuous massacre of Afghan civilians by the biggest military superpower that has proven to have no respect for international humanitarian law.” Laila, who requested that her last name be withheld due to security concerns, noted that the attack was waged in a country where the U.S. military has “been claiming to be bringing security and freedom.”

Laila went on to condemn the “long-term and permanent environmental poisoning of Afghanistan via these airstrikes of its air, water and soil,” stating, “This is terrorism.”

The U.S. military dodged responsibility for the killings. Brig. Gen. Charles Cleveland, a spokesperson for the international coalition, reportedly stated: “We are investigating the allegations and working diligently to determine whether civilians were killed or injured as a result of U.S. airstrikes conducted in support and defense of Afghan forces in or around Sangin.”

Seelai, a U.S.-based organizer with Afghans United for Justice, told AlterNet, "What is clear about the airstrike in Helmand Province is that it was not an accident. It is a war crime. It is impossible that the U.S. military officials involved in this attack did not know they were bombing a residential area for up to a half hour. Killing more than 18 innocent Afghans, including women and children as young as five, is a war crime."

"We demand accountability and reparations for the surviving family members and all who were injured in this indiscriminate bombing attack," added Seelai, who also requested her last name be withheld for security reasons.

The apparent massacre immediately follows news of fresh U.S. troop deployments to Helmand Province. Gen. John W. Nicholson, who oversees U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, lobbied lawmakers last week for a significant deployment of more U.S. service members. “I have adequate resourcing in my counterterrorism mission,” he said to the Senate Armed Services Committee, claiming “we have a shortfall of a few thousand” troops.

There are currently 8,400 U.S. troops in Afghanistan and roughly 6,400 from NATO allies, in levels that remain well above former President Barack Obama’s promised drawdown.

Meanwhile, the U.S. military continues to dodge the  consequences of its war crimes. In January, the U.S. military exonerated itself for a November 2016 massacre of dozens of civilians in Buz-e Kandahari, a village in Kunduz. And high-level American officials did not face any meaningful consequences for the U.S. military’s October 2015 massacre of 42 civilians at a Médecins Sans Frontières facility in Kunduz. MSF testified that, “Patients burned in their beds, medical staff were decapitated and lost limbs, and others were shot by the circling AC-130 gunship while fleeing the burning building.”

Phyllis Bennis, senior fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies, told AlterNet that the latest apparent killings are “one more massacre in what is a consistently escalating number of civilian casualties. The new U.N. figures just came out for 2016, and they indicate that 2016 had more civilian casualties than 2015. Meanwhile, 2015 had more than 2014, 2014 had more than 2013, all the way back to when they started counting.”

Notably, the latest U.N. figures found that the war killed or injured “more children and other civilians in 2016 than at any other time since the United Nations began keeping records," marking a 24 percent increase over the prior year.

“Meanwhile, the Taliban controls more territory than at any time since the U.S. invaded in 2001,” Bennis noted. “The claim that the war in Afghanistan is somehow helping the people of Afghanistan is simply false.”

Sarah Lazare is a staff writer for AlterNet. A former staff writer for Common Dreams, she coedited the book About Face: Military Resisters Turn Against War. Follow her on Twitter at @sarahlazare.

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