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Rights group calls civilian casualty probes inadequate

AT Monitoring Desk-KABUL: The Afghan government and the United States are not adequately investigating possible unlawful airstrikes in Afghanistan, which may contribute to rising civilian casualties, Human Rights Watch said.

Recent accounts from airstrike victims and witnesses in Nangarhar and other Afghan provinces uncovered major failings in US and Afghan investigations of civilian deaths, injuries, and property damage – notably the unwillingness to interview witnesses and obtain other evidence on site, the watchdog said in a statement.

“US and Afghan forces have an obligation to investigate possible laws-of-war violations when their airstrikes harm civilians,” said Patricia Gossman, senior Afghanistan researcher.

“But unless you interview survivors and witnesses, you’re not going to get the full story. Inadequate investigations into civilian loss from airstrikes may violate the laws of war and deny victims justice and appropriate redress, which fosters distrust and resentment toward the Afghan and US governments,” Gossman said.

Human Rights Watch says it has found that the Afghan government has developed almost no capacity to investigate civilian casualties arising from its military operations. At the same time, the watchdog says, US forces have downsized their civilian casualties tracking mechanisms and never conduct on-site investigations after attacks resulting in civilian casualties, relying instead on visual and satellite imagery and unreliable Afghan security force reports.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) has reported that civilian casualties from US and Afghan airstrikes have increased since 2016 as air operations in Afghanistan have increased.

In 2017, UNAMA documented 631 civilian casualties (295 deaths and 336 injuries) from 139 aerial operations conducted by Afghan government and US forces – a seven percent increase over 2016, and the highest yearly total of civilian casualties from airstrikes since systematic documentation began in 2009.

Civilian casualties from air operations represent six percent of all civilian casualties from the conflict. Since 2015, attacks by insurgents have accounted for about 65 percent of all civilian casualties in the conflict.

The Human Rights Watch says the Afghan government should improve its tracking and investigation procedures and ensure accountability for laws-of-war violations. “Our investigations of recent airstrikes killing dozens of Afghan civilians show that little real effort was made to uncover what happened,” Gossman said. “For these human tragedies to stop, the US and Afghan governments need to do more to fully investigate incidents and learn from them, and appropriately punish those responsible for unlawful civilian deaths.”

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