U.S. airstrikes on sites identified as drug-production centers in Afghanistan’s Farah province led to the deaths of at least 39 civilians and the facilities are not lawful targets under international law, the United Nations said in a report released on Wednesday, October 9.
In an investigation into airstrikes on more than 60 sites in Bakwa district in May, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said it was able to verify 39 civilian casualties and is working to verify reports of at least 37 more. At least 14 children were among the 30 people killed. U.S. Forces – Afghanistan said there were no civilians killed in those strikes.
“The United Nations understands that according to longstanding United States policy, economic objects that contribute to the war effort of a party to a conflict are considered legitimate military objectives,” the report said, but “according to international humanitarian law, including international customary law, facilities that contribute economically or financially to the war effort of a party to a conflict are considered civilian objectives.”
The report concludes that drug facilities and their workers may not be lawfully made the target of attacks, UNAMA said.
U.S. Forces – Afghanistan was quick to criticize the report, saying it was “deeply concerned by UNAMA’s methods and findings.”
“Sources with limited information, conflicted motives and violent agendas are not credible. USFOR -A follows the highest standards of accuracy and accountability to avoid harm to non-combatants and collateral damage,” spokesperson Colonel Sonny Leggett said.
The spokesperson further accused UNAMA of relying on propaganda websites like Voice of Jihad, a website run by the Taliban.
“USFOR-A investigates credible allegations of non-combatant casualties in a complex environment where others intentionally kill innocents, fight from behind civilians and use lies for propaganda,” Leggett said.
The airstrikes were among dozens that UNAMA said it was investigating after reports of civilian casualties in Farah, Nimroz, Helmand and Kunar provinces in the spring after the U.S. stepped up its aerial bombardment against the Taliban.
The report comes a day after Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Directorate of Security, said an airstrike last month that was blamed for the deaths of 40 civilians killed the leader of al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent and six other AQIS members who were “embedded” in a Taliban compound in Helmand.
UNAMA said in April that Afghan civilians were for the first time being killed in greater numbers by U.S. and pro-government forces than by the Taliban and other insurgent groups.