Grieving relatives and activists gathered on Tuesday in Lashkargah, the provincial capital of Helmand, in a public response to a military operation on Sunday night that claimed the lives of family members and fellow residents. 40 civilians killed and 16 wounded were the numbers claimed by a member of the Helmand provincial council.
On Sunday night, in the Musa Qala district of Helmand province, an operation was carried out by Afghan and International forces to target a Taliban weapons cache, official military and government forces reported. The number of insurgents killed varies among official accounts but sources say that Al-Qaida fighters were among those killed and captured, and photographs were provided by a US forces spokesperson showing suicide vests and other explosive materials seized during the raid.
The dozen or so Helmand residents on Tuesday came together to publicly express their outrage, pain, and in some cases to declare that the continuation of such attacks is unacceptable.
“Aren't they your children? I call on the International community and the Taliban to end this shedding of blood,” said Amir Mohammad Akhondzada, a tribal elder in Helmand province.
“It is unacceptable for us to continue, you see, forty people killed for the sake of six people,” said Abdul Khaliq, a civil society activist based in Helmand.
Some close relatives present at the gathering say they lost their wives and children in the air strikes, and that a number of the victims were wedding guests.
Samiullah, a resident of Musa Qala, said he lost several of his relatives in the Sunday night operation, and that his sister was wounded:
“One of my nephews was martyred, and three other relatives were martyred.”
“All family members of Abdul Rahman were killed and only one of their family’s children remains alive, the rest were killed in the operation,” said Mohammad Rafiq, a resident of the district.
A member of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) called the attack a criminal act.
“An Increase in civilian casualties is worrying for the human rights commission, and we call for all parties involved in the war to pay attention to civilian lives,” said Latifa Sultani, the Women Rights Coordinator for the AIHRC.
A former military officer said that lack of punishment, and intelligence shortcomings, are the main reasons for such incidents:
“Indifference on the one hand, non-execution of orders and lack of punishment on the other, as well as weak intelligence,” are the causes, said Attiqullah Amarkahil, a former Afghan Air Force commander, “but I must say that there is no definitive analysis in war.”
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense in statement said that the ministry is investigating the incident in Musa Qala district of Helmand province.
“In Musa Qala, we inflicted heavy casualties on foreign terrorists and al-Qaeda affiliates, and we take the claims of civilian casualties very seriously and will investigate the incident,” said Fawad Aman, deputy spokesman for the Ministry of Defense.
The Ministry of Defense stated that 22 Taliban members, including five Pakistani members, were killed in the operation.