Afghans riot over air-strike atrocity

Witnesses say deaths of 147 people in three villages came after a sustained bombardment by American aircraft. Patrick Cockburn, in Herat, reports

Shouting "Death to America" and "Death to the Government", thousands of Afghan villagers hurled stones at police yesterday as they vented their fury at American air strikes that local officials claim killed 147 civilians.

The riot started when people from three villages struck by US bombers in the early hours of Tuesday, brought 15 newly-discovered bodies in a truck to the house of the provincial governor. As the crowd pressed forward in Farah, police opened fire, wounding four protesters. Traders in the rest of Farah city, the capital of the province of the same name where the bombing took place, closed their shops, vowing they would not reopen them until there is an investigation.

A local official Abdul Basir Khan said yesterday that he had collected the names of 147 people who had died, making it the worst such incident since the US intervened in Afghanistan started in 2001. A phone call from the governor of Farah province, Rohul Amin, in which he said that 130 people had died, was played over the loudspeaker in the Afghan parliament in Kabul, sparking demands for more control over US operations.

The protest in Farah City is the latest sign of a strong Afghan reaction against US air attacks in which explosions inflict massive damage on mud-brick houses that provide little protection against bomb blasts. A claim by American officials, which was repeated by the US Defence Secretary Robert Gates yesterday in Kabul, that the Taliban might have killed people with grenades because they did not pay an opium tax is not supported by any eyewitnesses and is disproved by pictures of deep bomb craters, one of which is filled with water. Mr Gates expressed regret for the incident but did not go so far as to accept blame.

The US admits that it did conduct an air strike at the time and place, but it is becoming clear, going by the account of survivors, that the air raid was not a brief attack by several aircraft acting on mistaken intelligence, but a sustained bombardment in which three villages were pounded to pieces. Farouq Faizy, an Afghan radio reporter who was one of the first to reach the district of Bala Baluk, says villagers told him that bombs suddenly, "began to fall at 8pm on Monday and went on until 10pm though some believe there were still bombs falling later". A prolonged bombing attack would explain why there are so many dead, but only 14 wounded received at Farah City hospital.

The attack was on three villages – Gerani, Gangabad and Koujaha – just off the main road. It is a poppy growing area of poor farmers and there were several fields of poppies near the villages. The Taliban are traditionally strong here and the police and soldiers waiting around the villages were said by eyewitnesses to be frightened. This would explain why Afghan army commanders might have been eager to call for US airstrikes, though they would have needed the agreement of American special operations officers.

Provincial officials, including the governor Rohul Amin, say that in the lead-up to the bombing there was heavy fighting between hundreds of Taliban and the Afghan Army and police. Going by Mr Faizy's account there had been, "a fight some seven or eight kilometres from the three villages in which two Afghan Army and a US Humvee were destroyed. A third Afghan Army vehicle was captured." Three police were killed and four wounded, as was one American and one Afghan army soldier. This was hardly a major military engagement, but the pro-government forces seem to have got the worst of it and their burned out vehicles still stand in the road.

The loss of life in Afghanistan from air strikes is often worse than in Iraq where houses are more modern and usually have basements. In the villages in Farah, people were living in compounds with mud brick walls which crumbled easily. Pictures of the aftermath of the attack show people standing beside the remains of a relative which often only looks like a muddy pile of torn meat. One elderly white bearded man, said by neighbours to have lost 30 members of his family, squats despairingly beside a body that has been torn into shreds. Among the few wounded to stay alive is a child with a badly burned face.

One reason why US bombing inflicts such heavy civilian casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq is that both are very poor countries in which houses are very crowded. When the US used air strikes and heavy artillery with little restraint in the siege of Fallujah in 2004 it caused serious loss of life. Wedding parties in both countries have often been mistaken for "terrorist" gatherings and bombed.

In Afghanistan opinion polls show that support for the Taliban and for armed attacks on foreign forces rises sharply after events like the bombing in Farah. President Hamid Karzai frequently criticises the US military for wantonly inflicting civilian casualties, attacks which his opponents say is an opportunistic effort to burnish his nationalist credentials.

The Taliban increasingly use tactics developed by insurgents in Iraq, notably suicide bombing on a mass scale and IEDs, or mines in the road detonated by a control wires or electronically. In Helmand province yesterday a suicide bomber killed 12 civilians in an attack on a foreign military convoy near the bazaar of the town of Gereshk. No foreign troops were killed by the explosion, though two were wounded.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Books should be for everyone, says Els, 8. Publisher Scholastic now agrees
booksAn eight-year-old saw a pirate book was ‘for boys’ and took on the publishers
Life and Style
Mary Beard received abuse after speaking positively on 'Question Time' about immigrant workers: 'When people say ridiculous, untrue and hurtful things, then I think you should call them out'
tech
Life and Style
Most mail-order brides are thought to come from Thailand, the Philippines and Romania
life
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Voices
Margaret Thatcher, with her director of publicity Sir Gordon Reece, who helped her and the Tory Party to victory in 1979
voicesThe subject is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for former PR man DJ Taylor
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Treasury Assistant - Accounts Assistant - London, Old Street

£24000 - £26000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Recruitment Genius: Installation and Service / Security Engineer

£22000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is part of a Group...

Recruitment Genius: Service Charge Accounts Assistant

£16000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you a a young, dynamic pers...

Cancer Research UK: Corporate Partnerships Volunteer Events Coordinator – London

Voluntary: Cancer Research UK: We’re looking for someone to support our award ...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

Confessions of a former PR man

The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

The mother of all goodbyes

Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions