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Pressure over air strike deaths in Afghanista -

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Pressure over air strike deaths in Afghanistan

The World Today - Tuesday, 9 September , 2008 12:26:00

Reporter: Simon Lauder

ELEANOR HALL: As the United States prepares to bolster its military commitment to Afghanistan, a
human rights group is warning that US air raids are responsible for a rapidly rising civilian death
toll that is undermining the mission.

Human Rights Watch has released a report showing that the number of Afghan civilians killed in air
strikes has tripled in the space of a year.

The group is also pointing to a video showing the effect of a US raid on a village last month, and
is calling on the US to rely less on air power.

The US military has now pledged to re-open an investigation into the incident, as Simon Lauder
reports.

SIMON LAUDER: A US investigation found up to seven civilians and 35 militants were killed in the
air raid in the western province of Herat on the 22nd of August.

But this amateur video footage tells a different story.

(Sound of people wailing)

SIMON LAUDER: As the camera pans a room lined with covered bodies, the blankets are lifted so the
faces of children can be seen.

Afghanistan's Foreign Minister Rangin Dadfar Spanta commented on the video after a meeting with his
German counterpart.

RANGIN DADFAR SPANTA (translated): Our investigation on the ground shows that more than 90 people
were killed in this attack, many of them children, and the Afghan people demand from their
government to assume responsibility and to make the right decisions.

SIMON LAUDER: The US has now promised to reopen its investigation into the raid.

The senior US officer in Afghanistan and the commander of the NATO-led mission, General David
McKiernan, says the review will be handled by a senior US military officer.

Adding to the pressure on NATO and the US is a new report from Human Rights Watch.

The report finds at least 321 Afghan civilians were killed in international air strikes last year,
a rise from 116 in 2006. The group says it cites the most conservative figures available.

Spokeswoman, Rachel Reed, says the greater reliance on air raids is leading to more 'mistakes'.

RACHEL REED: US and NATO forces have caused hundreds of deaths that could have been prevented, the
majority of the cases that we looked at for this report involved the US led coalition, rather than
NATO forces.

The risk is that the collateral damage from the US war on terror will actually undermine the NATO
mission in Afghanistan, which should be to protect Afghan civilians.

SIMON LAUDER: Tom Porteous from Human Rights Watch has also criticised the response by US officials
when civilian deaths occur.

TOM PORTEOUS: The tendency of the US and NATO to react to reports that large numbers of civilians
have been killed, then they will blame it entirely on the Taliban. What needs to happen is for the
NATO and US forces to be very proactive in launching investigations, making sure that the facts are
clear, then taking responsibility where there is responsibility, and there is in some case, and
then being very quick to provide compensation for those families who have been affected.

SIMON LAUDER: The former speaker of the Afghan Parliament Fawzia Koufi says the large number of
deaths is undermining support for the Afghan government, and bolstering support for the Taliban.

FAWZIA KOUFI: It gives a kind of a tool for the anti-government to use against the government and
against our partners when it comes to their advocacy and winning the heart and minds of people.

SIMON LAUDER: Human Rights Watch found most of the air strike casualties happened in unplanned
raids, when air power was called in as support, often when troops were in pursuit of insurgents who
had retreated to populated areas.

The NATO led International Security Assistance Force has defended the use of air-power. ISAF
spokesman Richard Blanchette says forces wouldn't attack a target if they knew civilians would get
hurt.

RICHARD BLANCHETTE: Air power has to be used but used with all the controlled measures that ISAF is
putting in place, and we know that OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom) and their side are doing their
best as well.

But there is always improvement, everybody is working on this altogether.

SIMON LAUDER: While the Australian Government has made it clear this week that it is not planning
to deploy extra troops to Afghanistan, the US is.

In a speech to be delivered tonight, President George W. Bush will announce plans to send a Marine
battalion and an Army combat brigade to Afghanistan.

ELEANOR HALL: Simon Lauder reporting.