August 27, 2008 in Nation/World

U.N.: U.S.-led airstrike killed 90 Afghan civilians

By Candace Rondeaux and Karen DeYoung Washington Post

Afghan opium production falls

 Opium production in Afghanistan declined by 6 percent this year, the sharpest decline since the United States toppled the Taliban rulers there, according to a United Nations report released Tuesday.

 Afghan opium production was down about 500 tons, according to the U.N. 2008 Afghanistan Opium Survey. The amount of land dedicated to opium poppies fell even more dramatically, dropping 19 percent because of severe drought and the efforts of Afghan governors, tribal and religious leaders to persuade local farmers to abandon the elicit crop.

Washington Post

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – United Nations officials in Afghanistan said Tuesday there was “convincing evidence” that at least 90 civilians – two-thirds of them children – were killed in a U.S.-led airstrike last week that caused the Afghan government to call for a review of U.S. and NATO military operations in the country.

Kai Eide, the top U.N. official in Afghanistan, said local officials and residents in the western province of Herat corroborated reports that 60 children and 30 adults had been killed in an Aug. 21 military operation led by U.S. Special Operations forces and the Afghan army.

In a statement, Eide called the incident a “matter of grave concern to the United Nations” and said he had “repeatedly made clear that the safety and welfare of civilians must be considered above all else during the planning and conduct of all military operations.”

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have increased their reliance on air power since last year, causing a corresponding increase in civilian deaths. The Herat assault appears to have caused the largest civilian loss of life attributed to U.S. forces since the war began in late 2001.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said military commanders in Afghanistan continued to believe that the attack in Herat “was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target.”

Whitman promised a detailed investigation.

The U.N. findings came as the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai demanded more coordination between Afghan and international security forces and for greater accountability on the part of U.S. and NATO troops operating in the country. Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers called Monday for a halt to aerial bombings and to what it called overly aggressive house raids and illegal detentions. The council demanded an agreement with U.S. and NATO forces that would define the parameters of international military operations in Afghanistan.

Afghan officials and independent investigators say more than 165 civilians have been killed in four separate airstrikes within the last two months. The deaths have angered Afghans who are pressuring Karzai to seek greater control over foreign troops even as resurgent Taliban fighters increase their attacks on the international presence in Afghanistan.

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