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Ninety Afghan civilians killed in coalition airstrike

Josef Litobarski
27 August 2008

The UN has found "convincing evidence" that 90 civilians, including 60 children, were killed in the US airstrike last Friday targeting senior Taliban commander Mullah Sadiq. Coalition spokespeople initially claimed 30 militants had died in the attack, and that there had been no civilian casualties. However, after an Afghan government investigation reported close to a hundred civilians deaths, coalition officials released a revised death-toll which included five civilians, all members of Mullah Sadiq's family.

The latest figures from the UN, however, support the Afghan government's findings. Initial investigations by the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) have concluded that "some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men."

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The United States Institute of Peace released a report in August investigating the changing way the war in Afghanistan is being fought. There has been a massive increase in the use of aerial munitions over the course of the conflict, from an average of 5,000 pounds of munitions being dropped per month in 2005 to a peak of 168,000 pounds in December 2007. Related to the increasing reliance on air power is a rise in the number of civilian casualties, which rose in Afghanistan by 62% in 2008 compared to the first six months of 2007.

Despite the rise in civilian casualties, some US and allied commanders in Afghanistan have expressed frustration at what they feel are restrictive rules governing when and how airstrikes can be employed. The Afghan government, meanwhile, has expressed frustration that airstrikes are being employed at all - with President Karzai arguing in a speech earlier this month that "the only result of the use of airstrikes is the killing of civilians."

Fighting in Afghanistan has intensified in recent months to such an extent that British troops are now being killed at a faster rate than during the height of the Iraq war. The Taliban, too, are suffering heavy casualties: nearly fifty Taliban militants were killed on Tuesday, according to Afghan officials. But to achieve lasting success in Afghanistan, the US-led coalition will have to wean itself off its reliance on air power.

Darfur plane hijackers surrender

Two men who hijacked a Sudanese flight and took hostage 95 passengers and crew have surrendered after a 22-hour standoff. The flight, originally bound for the Sudanese capital of Khartoum, was diverted at the hijackers' request to an airfield in Libya. According to Libyan officials, the hijackers claimed to be members of the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM), although the leader of the SLM, Abdulwahid Elnur, has denied his movement was involved.

The plane was hijacked not far from a refugee camp which was raided by the Sudanese military on Monday. At least 33 people were reported to have died in the raid, with some reports saying as many as 70 were killed. Up to 300,000 people have been killed since the conflict between ethnic minority rebels and the Sudanese government began in 2003.

Violence sweeps Pakistan amidst political crisis

A senior US diplomat in northwest Pakistan escaped an attempt on her life on Tuesday when two men armed with AK-47s shot at her armoured vehicle. Just hours later at least seven people were killed and 20 injured when a bomb exploded at a street-café in Islamabad. Another bombing at a political rally in south-western Pakistan injured 20.

Meanwhile, in the northwest of the country, security forces claim to have killed 40 militants in heavy fighting. Analysts are concerned that the collapse of the ruling coalition in the wake of President Musharraf's resignation will only distract the government from the increasing violence.

Religious strife engulfs parts of India

The murder on Saturday of Swami Lakshmanananda, a Hindu religious leader in the Indian state of Orissa, has sparked clashes between Christians and Hindus which have left at least 11 people dead. Police believe Maoist rebels were behind the assassination, which has been publicly condemned by Christian groups, but religious tensions in the region have boiled over into violence.

Meanwhile, Muslim protests in Indian Kashmir, which began in response to earlier Hindu protests over the government not granting land to a Hindu shrine, have grown into calls for Kashmiri independence from India. Police have on several occasions caused fatalities by firing into crowds of protestors. The UN has called for calm and asked India's security forces to "respect the right to freedom of assembly and expression."

Death-toll rises in Philippines fighting

Ten days of fighting between the Philippines army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has left at least 187 people dead, including 60 civilians, according to human rights monitors. The violence, some of the worst in recent years, erupted last week when a peace-deal between MILF and the government collapsed. Rebels in the Muslim-majority mineral-rich Mindanao region have been pushing for independence from the largely Christian Philippines for four decades, in a conflict which has claimed at least 120,000 lives.

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