Spinning civilians killed in Afghanistan

In a comment to an earlier post, Siamdave mentioned today’s “The Current” on CBC. He says

…almost the entire hour was spent explaining, first, why Canadians should not expect this to be an issue in the election, and then why Canadians needed to get with the program and support the mission.

I tuned into the CBC archive to listen to the show and was surprised to hear Col. Alain Pellerin (ret.) of the military-funded Conference of Defence Associations arguing that Canadian troops have only been responsible for the deaths of 10 civilians in Afghanistan.

That’s quite a feat, since thousands of civilians have died in fighting, and Canadians have been battling insurgents for three years, but have only killed 10 civilians?

The figure is based on some DND documents obtained by Ottawa’s Embassy magazine a few weeks ago. They were mostly civilians killed by Canadian troops travelling in convoys who used lethal force when drivers didn’t heed warnings to stay away (at least we hope there was a warning).

Many Canadians have been injured or killed by suicide bombers attacking convoys, and soldiers’ rules of engagement require them to shoot-to-kill, if required, to defend the convoy.

But I think that Col. Pellerin (ret.) was “spinning” listeners about the low number of civilians killed by Canadians.

The number is likely much higher when you consider air strikes called in by Canadians, but conducted by other countries’ air forces (Canada does not have combat aircraft in Afghanistan).

Just as I told Embassy Magazine at the time, Canada frequently relies on air strikes during the fighting, and it’s from these bombings that civilians are getting killed in appalling numbers.

For instance, it took me only a few minutes to locate this CTV news report from May 25, 2006 describing how at least 16 civilians, maybe more than 20, were killed in Kandahar province during a coalition battle with insurgents when “someone” called in an air strike:

Coalition forces engaged about 200 Taliban fighters near the village of Azizi, about 35 kilometres west of Kandahar, on Sunday [May 20, 2006].

Late Sunday or early Monday, the fighters retreated into the village, but continued fighting coalition troops. They took refuge in homes and a religious school.

Someone ordered air strikes.

At least 16 villagers were killed, but some estimates put the death toll at 25 or higher.

The U.S. military confirmed the death of at least 20 militants but believes they may have killed up to 60 insurgents.
The area has been closed to journalists.

Unofficially, I have heard rumours that this was not an isolated incident, and that many more civilians have been killed during battles involving Canadians.

But it may take years for this to be confirmed, if it is true. Let’s hope it’s not.

Tags: Afghanistan