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1.12.2018 US fighter jets bombed over 60 buildings in Afghanistan in October
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ByJessica PurkissAbigail Fielding-Smith On Dec 01, 2018 - 17:16
KABUL (Pajhwok/BIJ): US military aircraft bombed over 60 buildings in
Afghanistan in October alone, reviving longstanding concerns that these
kinds of strikes risk higher numbers of civilian casualties, according to
a report by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Newly released data​ from Operation Resolute Support, the US-led
NATO mission in Afghanistan, show that 66 buildings were destroyed over
the course of the 392 strikes carried out last month.

Strikes on buildings are more likely to cause civilian casualties because
it’s difficult for those launching them to see whose inside. In response
to rising concerns about the levels of civilian deaths in Afghanistan in
2008, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who was then serving as the top US
commander in Afghanistan, banned air strikes that targeted residential
buildings except in the most extreme cases.

It is not clear whether any of the buildings targeted in October would
meet that criteria, but a further directive was issued after a spate of
civilian deaths in 2016, which stated that attacks on any kind of building
had to be approved by top commanders.

When asked whether the number of strikes on buildings in October meant
that the most recent rule had been relaxed, a US military spokesperson
said that this was not the case. ​

The recent bombing statistics come as the United Nations warns of a
​“worrying” increase in civilian casualties caused by US airstrikes.
The number of US strikes leading to civilian casualties during the first
nine months of this year were more than double the figures for the same
period last year, according to the UN The reasons behind this rise are
unclear, but civilian casualty expert Larry Lewis said it was "possible"
that a more relaxed culture of approving strikes on buildings could be
playing a role.

“Destroying 60 buildings in a month means that twice a day, international
forces are conducting the riskiest kind of strikes for civilians:
structures where there is uncertainty of who may be inside them,” said
Lewis, the director of the Centre for Autonomy and Artificial Intelligence
at the Centre for Naval Analyses. "I would hope that forces in Afghanistan
are doing a rigorous review of these strikes and all allegations to
monitor this risk ... That’s something that didn’t happen in Mosul, and
the human cost was tremendous."

The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, where we work, has previously
reported on the dangers such strikes pose to civilians. In 2014, we worked
with the research group Forensic Architecture​ to map where drone
strikes hit in Pakistan​​, discovering that 61% of the strikes
in the drone campaign there targeted houses, killing an estimated 222
civilians in more than 280 strikes.​

It has been impossible to properly track the escalating U.S. air war in
Afghanistan for much of 2018 because the US military abruptly stopped
releasing detailed information about its operations and strikes at the end
of last year. After the Bureau and other news organizations raised concerns
about this lack of transparency, Resolute Support finally started
publishing the information again in September, adding more detail on the
locations and targets of strikes. This is the first time the Bureau, which
has been tracking the US air war in Afghanistan since 2015, has been able
to produce an analysis of US targets. ​

Data from the previous month showed that US strikes had destroyed three
buildings and 30 other structures. However, the US military did not
explain how they defined a structure as opposed to a building.

With only two months of data so far available, it’s hard to draw
conclusions about targeting patterns just yet. But monitoring them will be
a vital task in the months ahead. The tempo of the Afghan war seems to be
creeping up: recent days have seen three US servicemen killed and reports
of large numbers of civilian casualties from airstrikes in Helmand
province. How bad this escalation proves for civilians will be partly
determined by the kind of targeting practices in place, which tend to be
kept secret. Tracking data on strike locations is one of the few ways that
the general public can get a sense of how the US air war in Afghanistan is
being conducted. Its continued supply is of critical importance. ​


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