An investigation released today by the Afghanistan goverment concludes that US forces killed 47 civilians attending a wedding on July 6 near Deh Bala in Nangarhar province. Thirty-nine of the deceased were women and children, who were walking the bride to the groom’s village, as is traditional. The bride was among those killed, said the nine-man investigative team, who relied on eye-witness and relatives’ accounts. “They were all civilians and had no links with Taliban or al Qaeda,” the head of the investigation told Agence France Presse.
The DOD has so far maintained that there were no women or children present during the attack and that only militants were killed. US forces “killed an unknown number of militants yesterday in a precision airstrike aimed at a large group of enemy fighters on a mountain range in the Deh Bala district of Nangarhar,” a DOD press release said. It is still unclear whether the US will launch its own investigation into the attack, but the Afghani team plans to formally disclose its findings to president Hamid Karzai within days.
US military officials are, however, looking into a separate incident that occured on July 4. In that attack, 17 Afghanis were killed and nine wounded. According to Afghanistan defense ministry official Mohammed Amin, all of those killed in the July 4 bombing were also civilians. “All I can say is that any loss of innocent life is tragic,” a US military spokesman told Reuters. “I can assure you that civilians are never targeted in operations and that our forces go to great lengths in avoiding civilian casualties.”
Sadly, this is not the first time a wedding party has been mistaken for a band of militants. An eerily similar incident occured in Iraq in 2004. Twenty-seven people in a wedding party, mostly women and children, were killed. In this case the AP had video of the wedding, and a reporter recognized some of the deceased from the wedding video and from clothes they were wearing. Despite that, US military officials maintained the deceased were insurgents.
As we’ve reported before, civilian casualties are nothing new to this administration. The only thing that puzzles me is how military commanders classify civilians vs. insurgents. If unarmed women and children attending a wedding are called militants, who exactly are we supposed to be protecting in Afghanistan?