While stressing their allegations of Taliban complicity in the deaths, the US military admitted yesterday that it had killed 37 civilians in an air strike on a wedding party in Kandahar Province early last week. The report comes just days after Afghan President Hamid Karzai issued his government’s assessment of the attack.
Long delays and repeated denials have damaged the credibility of international forces with both the Afghan government and the civilian populace in the wake of previous US strikes which killed large numbers of civilians, such as August’s strike in Herat Province. The strike killed at least 90 civilians, but the US continued to deny any significant civilian casualties for over a month, finally revising their account in early October.
Even then, the US insisted the Herat strike killed “more than 30” civilians, and in spite of an Afghan government investigation that concluded it was based on a false tip called in by a rival tribe, they continued to maintain that the killings were “legitimate self-defense.”
Admitting the latest killings more quickly may relieve tensions with the Afghan government somewhat, but President Karzai is still pressuring President-elect Obama to halt the growing US reliance on air power in populated areas of Afghanistan. In spite of this, Assistant Secretary of State Richard Boucher says he does not believe the killings have damaged relations with Afghanistan.