NATO has conceded that as many as eight innocent Afghan civilians were killed in an airstrike early on Sunday. The US-led military alliance initially claimed that 45 Islamic militants and no civilians had been killed in the operation.
The Guardianreports that the victims of the strike were all women and girls out gathering firewood near their village in Alingar district, Laghman province, east of the capital city of Kabul. Seven other women and girls, some as young as 10, were also injured in the attack and taken to local hospitals.
As is often the case with such incidents, NATO initially claimed that no civilians had been harmed in the strike. The alliance claimed that only insurgents-- 45 of them-- had been killed. But grieving and outraged villagers brought the victims' bodies to the governor's office in the provincial capital, forcing NATO to admit to killing them.
"Unfortunately, we have become aware of possible ISAF-caused civilian casualties as a result of this strike, numbering five to eight Afghans," Major Adam Wojack, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, told the BBC.
"ISAF offers its sincerest condolences to the affected community and family members, as well as to the Afghan people, concerning this tragic loss of life," he added.
According to the Laghman provincial governor, the dead women and girls had gone into the mountains to gather wood and nuts, a common practice. But the heavily-forested and rugged area in which they were killed is favored by the Taliban and other Afghan resistance fighters because it is beyond the reach of government control.
NATO has been conducting an invasion and occupation of Afghanistan for nearly 11 years, a response to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks on the United States. Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorists believed to be responsible for those attacks were operating out of Afghanistan under the protection of the ruling Islamic fundamentalist Taliban regime.
The Afghan war is the longest in US history. More than 3,000 US and coalition troops, as well as tens of thousands of innocent Afghan civilians, have been killed since 2001. Air strikes-- both from manned warplanes and from unmanned aerial drones-- have been responsible for many of those deaths. After falsely claiming that such strikes "have not caused a huge number of civilian casualties," it emerged that US President Barack Obama had embraced a redefinition of the term 'militant' to include all military-age males in an attempt to artificially deflate civilian casualty figures.
The London-based Bureau for Investigative Journalism also revealed that US aircraft have deliberately targeted emergency responders attempting to aid airstrike victims as well as the funerals of suspected militants killed in airstrikes.
While the United Nations reported last month that the number of Afghan civilian casualties-- the vast majority of which have been caused by insurgents-- had fallen 15 percent from the same period a year ago, a number of deadly incidents attributable to US and NATO attacks have made headlines in recent months.
In June, at least 15 civilians were killed in a NATO airstrike in Logar province.
In May, a father, mother and their six children were killed by a NATO airstrike in Paktia province.
Earlier in May, a pair of NATO airstrikes killed at least 20 innocent civilians. One strike killed a mother and her five children in Sangin district, while the other killed at least 14 civilians in Badghis province.
And in February, a NATO airstrike killed eight children and a mentally disabled adult in Kapisa province.
The frequent killing of innocent civilians by coalition troops has often tested relations between the United States and Afghanistan, with an exasperated Afghan President Hamid Karzai once even threatening to join the Taliban if NATO did not stop killing innocent Afghans.
Not only Afghans have had to bury innocent civilians as a result of US-led attacks. Airstrikes have also killed hundreds of innocent Pakistanis, and just last week Digital Journal reported that a US drone strike killed 13 Yemeni civilians.