(Quetta, Pakistan) -- At least twenty-five, and possibly as many as thirty-five, Afghan civilians died when U.S. bombs and gunfire hit their village, Chowkar-Karez, on the night of October 22, Human Rights Watch said today.
None of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch knew of Taliban or Al-Qaida positions in the area of the attack.
Human Rights Watch reiterated its call to the U.S.-led alliance to ensure that it is taking adequate precautions to avoid civilian casualties, and called for an immediate investigation into the bombing raid that hit Chowkar-Karez, located some forty kilometers north of the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.
"If there were military targets in the area, we'd like to know what they were," said Sidney Jones, Asia Director of Human Rights Watch. "This is the second instance in less than a week in which we've documented substantial civilian casualties from U.S. bombing raids. The Pentagon has got to do more to avoid these deaths."
Human Rights Watch researchers located six wounded survivors of the October 22 bombing raid that hit Chowkar-Karez. The six are currently recovering in Quetta hospitals. Human Rights Watch also interviewed several additional persons who witnessed the attack but were not hurt.
Among those wounded by the bombing are forty-year-old Sardar Bibi, who lost her husband and six children in the attack; five-year-old Shabir Ahmed, who received severe shrapnel wounds to his head and remains unconscious; Shabir Ahmed's seven-year-old brother, who was also wounded; and three adult sisters.
According to the highly consistent accounts of the survivors, the bombs came from several aircraft that flew over the village of Chowkar-Karez, which is located in the Buri-Kala area of Kandahar province, some forty kilometers north of the city of Kandahar. The attack began at about 11 p.m. on the night of Monday, October 22, 2001. Many of the people in the village then ran out of their homes, afraid that the bombs would fall on the homes. All witnesses stated that aircraft then returned to the area and began firing from guns. Many of the civilians were killed from the firing. The bombing and firing lasted for about one hour.
One family interviewed by Human Rights Watch provided the names of eighteen relatives killed in the incident, and another unrelated woman told Human Rights Watch that her husband and six children were killed, and that she had been told that as many as thirty-five people died in the raid.
All of the witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch were adamant that there were no Taliban or Al-Qaida positions in the area of the attack, which is in a remote rural area of Afghanistan. In almost all other cases of civilian casualties caused by the U.S.-led bombing campaign investigated by Human Rights Watch, survivors and witnesses have been forthcoming in identifying Taliban or Al-Qaida military positions located nearby which could have been the target of the attack. It is impossible for Human Rights Watch to verify independently whether Taliban or Al-Qaida military targets existed in the area of Chowkar-Karez village, but the consistent statements of all witnesses and survivors that there were none is notable.
Mushfeqa, aged twenty, was interviewed by Human Rights Watch in a Quetta hospital where she and two sisters were recovering from shrapnel wounds. She explained that she and her extended family had fled from the city of Kandahar to their rural homes in Chowkar-Karez when the U.S.-led bombing campaign began. Referring to October 22, she told Human Rights Watch, "It was at about 11 p.m. First, one plane came and dropped a bomb. We ran out of the home, because we were afraid to die there. Then, some went back inside. I was at the door, and some of the small children were outside. Then the plane came and it was firing. I saw my mother and my brother shot. My uncle ran to his car to turn off the lights. Then a bomb hit the car and he died. ... When the next bomb came, I was inside the room. I was injured from the shrapnel."
Belqais, aged forty, a relative of Mushfeqa, confirmed to Human Rights Watch the deaths of her two brothers and many of their relatives. She named among the dead her eldest brother Noor Ahmed, aged fifty, his wife Masooma, aged thirty-five, and their four children, as well as her second brother, Saleh Ahmed, aged thirty-five, his wife Zarmina, and one of their sons. The two surviving sons of Saleh Ahmed, aged five and seven, are currently hospitalized in Quetta and were visited by Human Rights Watch. Belkais stated that other family members had also died.
Shafiqa, a sister of Mushfeqa who was also wounded in the attack, told Human Rights Watch that in total nineteen members of the extended family had died and provided a list of names which included the names provided by Belqais and Mushfeqa as well as others.
Another unrelated victim of the attack, located independently by Human Rights Watch, provided additional and confirming information of the incident. Sardar Bibi, aged about forty, is currently recovering in another hospital in Quetta. She told Human Rights Watch, "I was wounded five days ago. It was at night, at about 11:30 or so, I don't know the exact time as we were sleeping. Suddenly the bombardment started. We went out of the house because we were afraid they would bombard the house. Then, we were running with our neighbors. Another bomb fell down. ...The plane was circling and also shooting. First, a plane came and dropped a bomb, but the other plane kept circling." Her husband, Daulat Khan, and all of her six children were killed during the attack. Her children included two one-and-one-half-year-old twins, Mohammed Yasin and Mohammed Yusof, fourteen-year-old Akhter Bibi, fifteen-year-old Najia, sixteen-year-old Maimana, and eighteen-year-old Mariam.
She confirmed that there had been many civilian casualties in the village, and gave a similar death toll from one family as that given by the family interviewed by Human Rights Watch (see above): "Many people died and many were wounded. Eighteen people died from our neighborhood, and seventeen others died who were relatives."
The incident in Chowkar-Karez village happened a day after twenty-three civilians, the majority of them children, were killed when U.S. bombs hit the remote Afghan village of Thori located near a Taliban military base in Oruzgan province (see Human Rights Watch release "Afghanistan: U.S. Bombs Kill Twenty-three Civilians", October 26, 2001).
"We urge the Pentagon to investigate immediately what went wrong on October 22 and to take all feasible steps to avoid repetition of such a tragedy," said Jones.