Rare admission of guilt from US for killing Afghan child in air strike

A child has been killed in a US air strike in Afghanistan, the American military confirmed, in a rare admission of responsibility for civilian harm.

The US has, to our knowledge, so far admitted to killing only six civilians in strikes in 2019. The UN claims the number is much higher, with 430 deaths and injuries recorded in the first six months of the year.

In this incident, air support was called in when a joint US-Afghan ground operation came under fire in the Andar district in central Ghazni province on October 6. US forces claim the air strike killed three Taliban fighters and a child, who was standing nearby.

“Minors are not automatically classified as civilians,” a US military spokesperson said. “However in this case the minor was determined to be a non-combatant bystander who was put in harm’s way by Taliban fighters.”

US strikes in Afghanistan are at their highest rate in years, and civilian casualties from those strikes are also rising. In September, a US strike killed scores of farmers working in fields. Less than a week later, a joint US-Afghan raid is believed to have killed dozens of guests attending a wedding party.

The UN mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) also announced last week that they had found credible evidence of up to 76 civilian casualties in US air strikes targeting drug labs in Farah province in May. The US military has denied UNAMA’s findings, claiming no civilians died. There seems to be no indication that they will investigate the allegations.

Even if they did, US probes into allegations of civilian harm often languish for months.

Working with The New York Times’ visual investigations unit, the Bureau uncovered evidence that a US strike had killed 12 members of one family. The US denied responsibility for the strike until our investigation. While the Pentagon now admits the US military carried out the strike, it still has not reached a conclusion on the civilian casualties one year on.

“Civilian casualties caused by the United States in Afghanistan are clearly undercounted,” said Marc Garlasco, former head of civilian protection at UNAMA.

“While the US regularly admitted to civilian casualty incidents when they were part of the International Security Assistance Force, they now rarely confirm an incident of civilian harm they are responsible for,” he added.

Header photo: Military aircraft at Bagram Airfield (US Air Force photo by Senior Airman Rito Smith)

Our Shadow Wars project was funded by the Open Society Foundation and the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.