Afghanistan: US-NATO attacks kill 51 villagers

Air attacks by US and NATO forces that killed dozens of villagers in Afghanistan's western Herat province on April 28-29 sparked angry protests by thousands of residents of the province's Shindand district. The Inter Press Service news agency reported that on April 30 protesters torched the district headquarters of the US-installed Afghan government of President Hamid Karzai.

The May 3 Washington Post reported that Ghulam Nabi Hakak, the Herat representative of Afghanistan's official Independent Human Rights Commission, told it by phone: "So far the people have buried 45 bodies, and they are still taking out more. Yesterday they buried 12 children ... The exact number of dead is not clear, but the people are very angry."

Associated Press reported on May 4 that Afghan officials had concluded that the air attacks had killed 51 civilians in Shindand, including women and children.

The Post reported that US military spokespeople said they had not heard reports of civilian deaths but that 136 "suspected Taliban fighters" died during operations in Herat.

The Taliban is the Afghan Islamist movement that was set up in 1995-96, with US support, by Inter-Services Intelligence — the intelligence branch of Pakistan's military. The Taliban ruled most of Afghanistan until the US-led invasion of late 2001.

According to figures compiled by AP, about 4000 Afghans were killed last year, 75% of them "suspected Taliban militants", in fighting between Taliban-led guerrillas and the 47,000 US-led foreign occupation troops.

On May 4, Radio Free Europe-Radio Liberty reported that two days earlier Karzai had "warned that the Afghan public's patience was wearing thin". "We can no longer accept these [civilian] casualties", the report quoted Karzai as saying. "The Afghan nation has the right to complain. The Afghan nation should first complain to its government, because it's our duty. I'm busy dealing with it on a daily basis ..." RFE-RL noted that the president "had previously expressed concern over civilian deaths on several occasions".

Newsweek magazine reported on May 14 that "most Afghans cheered the fall of the Taliban in 2001", but "they increasingly resent the unending war, especially its rising toll in civilian lives — and they don't hesitate to blame America and its multinational allies ...

"In early March, after being hit by a suicide car bomber near Jalalabad, members of a US Marine convoy evidently snapped. According to a preliminary US military investigation, they sped back to their base shooting wildly, killing at least 12 unarmed civilians and wounding 35 others ... In the aftermath, hundreds of protesters closed a highway and clashed with police ...

"After a 60-year-old farmer was killed during a predawn US commando raid on his house about 15 miles from the eastern provincial capital on April 20, furious neighbors carried his corpse to the local police station and had to be persuaded to give it a proper Muslim burial rather than continue marching with it all the way to Jalalabad. Barely a week later two women were killed along with four armed men during another predawn raid on a suspected car-bombing cell just outside the city. The women's deaths led to several days of protests by hundreds of Afghans who chanted 'Death to Bush' and burned the American president in effigy."

The May 7 New York Times reported that "Afghanistan's government, competing with the Taliban for public support and trying to fend off accusations that it is corrupt and ineffective, is moving to curb ... the country's flourishing independent news media".

A proposal before parliament would ban any media coverage regarded by the government as insulting individuals or corporations, without allowing truth as a defence. It would prohibit coverage seen as violating the "provisions" of Islam or endangering "national stability, security or sovereignty".

"The government does not want to see and hear about its corruption and weaknesses on the media", Shukria Barakzai, a member of parliament and a former journalist, told the NYT.