After receiving new evidence in recent days, the U.S. military is launching a higher level investigation of its air strike in Afghanistan two weeks ago, in which dozens of people were killed. The initial U.S. investigation said the strike had killed at least 30 militants and between five and seven civilians. That disputed reports by Afghan and U.N. investigators, who said more then 90 civilians had been killed, many of them children. VOA's Al Pessin reports from the Pentagon.
|A boy carries his belongings next to the rubble of his home which was destroyed in a US airstrike in the village of Azizabad in Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan, 23 Aug 2008|
The official statement from the coalition command in Afghanistan said the investigating officer based his conclusions on statements from 30 people, including air crews and U.S. and Afghan ground forces. The statement, issued a week ago, said troops had also collected weapons, explosives and various types of information at the scene in the village of Azizabad, had video and photographs of the attack site, and had looked at burial grounds and gotten reports from local clinics and hospitals.
But the statement also says U.S. and Afghan authorities were kept out of the village the day after the attack, and the investigator was not given access to any information collected by "other organizations," an apparent reference to the U.N. and Afghan government investigations.
But Pentagon Spokesman Bryan Whitman says the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, General David McKiernan, has now been presented with additional evidence.
|Pentagon spokesman Brian Whitman (file photo)|
"There was some additional evidence, there was some imagery that came to his attention, that gave him reason to want to take a look at the investigation that we have done on this," said Bryan Whitman.
Whitman would not be specific, but reports from Kabul say U.N. officials showed General McKiernan a video shot with a mobile phone showing dozens of bodies in Azizabad, many of which appeared to be civilians rather than fighters.
"While we attempt to do very thorough and comprehensive investigations, we also try to do them in an expeditious fashion, particularly in this case because it had a lot of interest, and there were some conflicting reports," he said. "And then the investigating officer made some determinations. But in light of, over the weekend, General McKiernan receiving some new evidence, some imagery evidence, he made the decision, based on this new evidence, that he wanted a review of the initial investigation."
The military says a combined U.S. and Afghan force entered Azizabad on August 22 and took heavy fire from militants in the village. The initial investigation found the troops were "justified" and acted within "existing rules of engagement" in returning fire and calling in the air strike that resulted in the dispute over casualties. The investigator concluded that a Taliban commander known as Mullah Sadiq was among those killed.
The U.S. military regularly takes longer than other organizations to investigate incidents involving allegations of civilian casualties, saying it is more concerned about its reports being accurate than fast. Whitman says General McKiernan wants to find out why in this case, after a 10-day investigation, the U.S. military may have gotten it wrong.
"There is some evidence that suggests that the evidence that the United States military used in the conduct of its investigation may not have been complete," said Whitman. "But we will see."
U.S. Central Command, which has authority over all U.S. military activity in the Middle East and Central Asia, is expected to dispatch a general from its headquarters in Florida to handle the new investigation. Whitman says "nothing has resulted" from a U.S. offer to conduct a joint investigation with Afghan officials.