US Inquiry Revises Herat Civilian Toll, Still Disputes UN, Afghan Accounts

Updated 10/8 2:20 PM EST

The United States has concluded its promised inquiry into August’s air strike in Afghanistan’s Herat Province. Both Afghan and UN investigations concluded that the US strike killed at least 90 civilians, most of them children.

The US hotly disputed the toll, claiming initially that no civilians were killed, then later revising the number up to 5-7 civilians. They also accused Afghan civilians who claimed a higher toll of spreading “outrageous Taliban propaganda.” They were forced to reexamine their findings, however, when video evidence of the toll went public.

The investigator, Brigadier General Michael Callan, determined that many more civilians were killed than officials had previously claimed. He still put the number at only “more than 30,” still quite a bit below the other accounts. The report also insists that the strike was on a “legitimate target” and does not recommend any punishment for those involved.

This claim is likely to cause further tensions with Afghanistan, as President Hamid Karzai has maintained that the air strikes were on a faulty target and based on “total misinformation fed to the coalition forces.” President Karzai has also promised “punishment” for those responsible for the incident. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemery Bashary said he had not seen the report, but that the Afghan government stood behind its original findings.

In fact Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman says he wouldn’t even characterize the initial US report a “wrong,” claiming rather that “sometimes the truth can change.”

It is still unclear how the US military came to its initial conclusions, though the New York Times quotes one military official as saying they were only able to conduct a limited assessment because they feared retaliation from villagers. Why they chose to present incomplete findings as the absolute truth in spite of more thorough investigations claiming such dramatically different numbers is even less clear. At the time, US Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad attributed the difference to “a fog of war.”

Senior military commander General David McKiernan says that he issued a “revised tactical order” after the air strike, though he did concede that most of the rules were already in place at the time and the revised order simply “re-emphasized” them.

Author: Jason Ditz

Jason Ditz is Senior Editor for He has 20 years of experience in foreign policy research and his work has appeared in The American Conservative, Responsible Statecraft, Forbes, Toronto Star, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Providence Journal, Washington Times, and the Detroit Free Press.