n the latest bizarre twist to the official US stance on last month’s air strike in the Farah Province of Afghanistan, US Central Command (CENTCOM) has taken the unusual step of redenying the massive toll in the strike, nearly two weeks after the Defense Department had acknowledged that their numbers were roughly in line with the Afghan government’s own toll.
The March 4 air strike killed 140 civilians according to the Afghan government, with the majority of them children. Today’s CENTCOM estimate claimed “roughly 26” had died, though it said it did not discount the possibility that as many as 86 had been killed.
In the first days after the strike, US officials claimed to have “very reliable intelligence” that the entire incident had been made up by the Taliban, who supposedly had kidnapped hundreds of civilians, pre-killed them with hand grenades, dumped the bodies in houses in Farah, then tricked the US into bombing those houses so they’d take the blame.
It wasn’t long before the US admitted that claim was “thinly sourced” and that they had killed at least some of the civilians slain in the attack. But as the Afghan government began paying reparations to the families of the fallen, the US accused Afghan civilians of exaggerating the numbers to try to get more money. It was over a month after the attack that Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell admitted the US had come up with very similar numbers to what Afghan investigations had ruled in the first place. Which of course brings us back to where we are now, with CENTCOM backing off Morrell’s comments and claiming a lower toll again.
Outrage over the size of the toll, the deadliest since the 2001 US invasion, likely contributed to the repeated attempts to change its story. Up to that point, the US had adopted a tactic of quickly admitted to and apologizing for its killings.