Shameful killing

A North Treaty Atlantic Organisation (Nato) airstrike in Afghanistan’s Helmand province that killed around 14 civilians, 12 of them children and the rest women must be strongly condemned. Nato has apologised for the killing of civilians but has sought to justify the strike by claiming that Taliban insurgents were in the building that was targeted.
International forces have often blamed civilian deaths on Taliban attacks. Indeed, the Taliban has targeted civilians it believes are informers. It has also not hesitated to use civilians as human shields. Nato says its bombing of the children was accidental which it well might be. Still it does not diminish the enormity of the crime it has committed. In June 2009, the then Nato commander, US General Stanley McChrystal announced new rules of engagement with a view to limiting civilian casualties. That strategy did produce results.
However, following McChrystal’s dismissal in June 2010, his successor US General David Petraeus is reported to have come under pressure from US lawmakers and Pentagon officials to ease the rules so that international forces would have a freer hand in dealing with insurgents.  The killing of 12 children at Helmand is not an isolated accident but must be seen as the inevitable outcome of a strategy that is not mindful of civilian casualties.

The impunity and lack of accountability with which international forces operate in Afghanistan must end. Civilian deaths must be promptly and thoroughly probed by an independent and impartial team. This should lead to prosecution of anyone found to have violated international or other applicable laws. Victims and their families must be compensated fairly. It is the failure of Nato to do any of the above that has resulted in growing public anger with international forces and consequent support for the Taliban.
Aerial strikes that have resulted in civilian casualties in other countries wracked by civil war have prompted the west to demand trial of leaders on charges of war crimes. Yet when similar crimes are committed by their own military commanders and soldiers in Afghanistan or Iraq, the west has not hauled them up. It is time the rest of the world ended its shameful silence.

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