Drone strike aimed at Islamic State fighters, accidentally hit resting workers
JALALABAD: A US drone strike intended to hit an Islamic State (IS) hideout in Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians resting after a day’s labor in the fields, officials said yesterday.
The attack on Wednesday night also injured 40 people after accidentally targeting farmers and laborers who had just finished collecting pine nuts at mountainous Wazir Tangi in eastern Nangarhar province, three Afghan officials told Reuters.
“The workers had lit a bonfire and were sitting together when a drone targeted them,” tribal elder Malik Rahat Gul told Reuters by telephone from Wazir Tangi.
Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry and a senior USofficial in Kabul confirmed the drone strike, but did not share details of civilian casualties. “US forces conducted a drone strike against Da’esh (IS) terrorists in Nangarhar,” said Colonel Sonny Leggett, a spokesman for US forces in Afghanistan. “We are aware of allegations of the death of non-combatants and are working with local officials to determine the facts.”
About 14,000 US troops are in Afghanistan, training and advising Afghan security forces and conducting counter-insurgency operations against IS and the Taleban movement. Haidar Khan, who owns the pine nut fields, said about 150 workers were there for harvesting, with some still missing as well as the confirmed dead and injured.
A survivor of the drone strike said about 200 laborers were sleeping in five tents pitched near the farm when the attack happened. “Some of us managed to escape, some were injured but many were killed,” said Juma Gul, a resident of northeastern Kunar province who had travelled along with laborers to harvest and shell pine nuts this week. Angered by the attack, some residents of Nangarhar province demanded an apology and monetary compensation from the US government.
“Such mistakes cannot be justified. American forces must realize (they) will never win the war by killing innocent civilians,” said Javed Mansur, a resident of Jalalabad city. Jihadist IS fighters first appeared in Afghanistan in 2014 and have since made inroads in the east and north where they are battling the government, US forces and the Taleban.
The exact number of IS fighters is difficult to calculate because they frequently switch allegiances, but the US military estimates there are about 2,000.
There was no word from IS on the attack. There has been no let-up in assaults by Taleban and IS as Afghanistan prepares for a presidential election this month.
Hundreds of civilians have been killed in fighting across Afghanistan after the collapse of US-Taleban peace talks this month. The Taleban has warned US President Donald Trump will regret his decision to abruptly call off talks that could have led to a political settlement to end the 18-year-old war. The United Nations says nearly 4,000 civilians were killed or wounded in the first half of the year. That included a big increase in casualties inflicted by government and US-led foreign forces. – Reuters