KABUL, Afghanistan - In a previously undisclosed mission, the United States military has carried out a series of operations against the drug trade in western Afghanistan.
"Multiple" airstrikes by the U.S. military on alleged methamphetamine drug labs in a remote area of that part of the country in May, killed or injured dozens of civilians who should not have been treated as military targets, the UN said on Wednesday.
In a special report it has been revealed the U.S. carried out a massive number of airstrikes, said to be more than sixty, to disrupt the drug trade in Afghanistan. While the U.S. President Donald Trump has long lamented the U.S. military's entanglement in wars, and stating that the U.S. should not be acting as the world's police force, it is unclear as to what the the reason was for getting involved in fighting drugs.
What is more concerning about the serial airstrikes is that dozens of civilians have been killed by them, the majority of which were women and children.
When the airstrikes became public news the U.S. military denied there were any civilian casualties.
Whilst some of those killed an dinjured were workers at the meth labs targeted, most were not.
Investigators from the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), have verified 39 civilian casualties thirty deaths, 5 injured and four "undetermined." Of the casualties, 14 were children.
Together with the UN Human Rights Office (OHCHR) - which jointly produced the report - UNAMA said it had also received reliable and credible reports of at least thirty seven further civilian casualties 30 deaths and seven injured - the majority of whom were women and children.
"While some of the civilians killed or injured in the airstrikes were working in the drug labs, others including women and children were not," the report said.
There was no military advantage to be gained from the bombardment, it continued, pointing out that some of the buildings targeted including family residences - had no apparent link to drug-making.
"UNAMA found that the civilian structures that were allegedly used as drug labs and were hit during the airstrikes did not have a sufficient nexus to the Taliban's war-fighting operations to warrant their classification as military objectives," the report stated, referring to the non-state armed group that has carried out years of deadly attacks on civilians.
Although the Taliban controls Bakwa district and uses drug-making facilities to fund its operations, the report noted that the drug production facilities targeted "were not controlled and operated exclusively by the Taliban, but rather they were owned and operated by criminal groups with connections to international drug trafficking networks."
'First time airstrikes have caused mass casualties'
In a statement calling for aerial bombardments that target drug facilities to stop, the UN mission and OHCHR said that although the tactic was not new, "this was the first time that UNAMA had received reports of a large number of civilian casualties resulting from such an operation."
According to the probe, the United States Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A), assessed that there had been no civilian casualties in the airstrikes. This finding is in line with "longstanding United States policy" it said, which considers that economic objects that contribute to a party's war effort are "legitimate military objectives".
However, this is contrary to international humanitarian law, the report's authors insisted, pointing out that drug facilities and people working there "may not be lawfully made the target of attack, and should be protected."
On the issue of drug abuse in Afghanistan, the report acknowledges the growing threat posed by the methamphetamine industry and the "extreme and wide-ranging harm" to the country's people and broader region of narcotics in general.
But as an alternative to airstrikes, the report suggests that the "appropriate and legal" response to illicit drug activity is through law enforcement, "not military operations that endanger civilians."
The study called for USFOR-A to conduct an independent and transparent investigation to examine the impact on civilians from the 5 May operation.
These findings should be made public, as well as measures taken to ensure accountability, as well as measures to provide "appropriate redress" to victims and their family members, the UN report urged.
(Photo credit: Domenico/Flickr/cc).