U.S. Airstrike Kills Dozens of Taliban and Many Civilians

A U.S. airstrike in Kandahar province has killed dozens of Taliban guerrillas along with at least 17 innocents.

Angry villagers dug graves Tuesday to bury dozens of suspected militants and civilians killed in one of the deadliest U.S. airstrikes since the American-led invasion in 2001. Another 19 people were killed in new violence. Taliban fighters ambushed a police patrol in southern Afghanistan, killing three police but leaving 12 militants dead, officials said. Also Tuesday, three health workers and their driver were killed by a land mine near the capital.

The deaths brought to 305 the number of people killed in fighting during the last week. Most of the dead were militants. It’s the deadliest spate of fighting in four years and comes ahead of preparations for the U.S.-led coalition to hand over security operations in southern Afghanistan to NATO by July.

The coalition said 20 Taliban were confirmed killed in the airstrike on the village of Azizi in Kandahar province late Sunday or early Monday, while up to 60 more may have died. Local officials said 17 civilians also were killed, but one villager, Haji Ikhlaf, told The Associated Press that 26 civilians had been buried by early Tuesday. “We’ve buried women. We’ve buried children,” Ikhlaf, 40, said by cell phone from the area, which has been closed off to reporters by local security forces. “They are killing us. We are so angry.” Villagers also dug graves of slain Taliban rebels, he said.

The problem with using airstrikes, rather than ground assaults, for taking out these camps is that the possibility of collateral damage increases tremendously. While it also minimizes the risk of American casualties for the raid, more might be killed in the long run if the local population turns against them. That the villagers are burying the Taliban scum along with the innocents is not a hopeful sign.

Especially when one considers how vicious the Taliban are.

The medical workers were killed Monday about 25 miles west of Kabul on a busy road often frequented by foreigners, said Bashar Gul, a local deputy police chief. The blast killed a doctor, two nurses and their driver, he said. The four worked for the local Afghan Health Development Services. Militants have repeatedly targeted aid workers, including doctors and teachers. Last month, gunmen stormed a medical clinic in a northwestern province and killed five doctors and nurses. The Taliban opposes the presence of the development workers because they believe they bolster the U.S.-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

Amazing.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

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  3. LJD says:

    Is it any surprise that Taliban fighters have women and children, and choose to live and associate with them?

    Any civilian casualty is a tragedy. The difference is that we take extraordinary measures to avoid them, with an enemy that shields itself with civilians, and operates among civilians. The enemy takes extraordinary measures to cause civilian casualties.

  4. DC Loser says:

    LJD, and we get suckered into playing THAT game with them by throwing bombs into areas with civilians?

  5. Dale says:

    Has yellow journalism made a comeback? The title of the article could have stopped after the word ‘Taliban’like the original article did. But sadly, there had to be a reference to ‘civilians’ killed.
    Why wasn’t this article titled “US Airstrike kills dozens of Taliban and Sympathizers” (or “Supporters” or “Friends”)?
    Pehaps an article describing the dangers of supporting the Taliban and how it leads to a loss of civilian life would have been more appropriate.
    I agree with the thrust of your point that airstrikes cannot discriminate between the good guys and the bad guys and may lead to blow back. No one is safe when conflict is afoot.

  6. Bhoe says:

    Has yellow journalism made a comeback? The title of the article could have stopped after the word �Taliban�like the original article did. But sadly, there had to be a reference to �civilians� killed.
    Why wasn�t this article titled �US Airstrike kills dozens of Taliban and Sympathizers� (or �Supporters� or �Friends�)?

    Yeah, James, you surely are a Taliban sympathizer since the original wire story had the headline, “19 Killed in New Violence in Afghanistan” and you added the yellow-bellied “civilians” bit!

    Are you going soft on us?

  7. James Joyner says:

    LJD and Dale,

    The effect of killing civilians is the main point of the post; it’s a reasonable thing to include in the headline. Did the U.S. military try to minimize collateral damage? Ya betcha. Did they do enough? I’d argue not. Reliance on safe aerial strikes rather than more dangerous ground action radically increases the odds of civilian casualties.

    Whether these dead are “innocents” in every sense of the word is really beside the point. Killing them harms the mission.

  8. LJD says:

    It seems to me that these ‘villagers’ would have been angered by ANY incursion into their territory, by airstrikes OR ground personnel. This is one unfortunate consequence of the age of technological warfare: the hope or belief that we can somehow avoid ANY collateral damage.

    Killing civilians does harm the mission- somewhat. I’d also say that arguing we could have done it without any casualties is a pipe dream.

    We need to stop tying the hands of our forces. The next step, and what is really harming the mission, is leading the voting populace to think we should not have the mission at all. Now that the anti-war crowd has convinced a majority on Iraq, the next logical step is to suggest pulling all troops out of Afghanistan as well. Advantage: OBL.

  9. DC Loser says:

    LJD, I don’t think you’ll find any here opposed to what we’re doing in Afghanistan. However, treating civilian casualties cavalierly is counterproductive. This is, after all, about supporting the Karzai’s Afghan government. Killig civilians will, even accidentally, will not generate much support from the populace for his government. It makes us look like the Soviet invaders in their indiscriminate use of airpower against villagers, and the propaganda value for the Taliban cannot be discounted.

  10. LJD says:

    My intent is not to be cavalier. Rather to point out that the alternative increasingly coming into favor is doing nothing. That strategy seems to only produce American civilian casualties.