Video evidence has emerged supporting local villagers' claims that a U.S. airstrike last month killed a great number of civilians, contradicting the Pentagon's claim that it was a legitimate strike resulting in few civilian casualties.
The Pentagon has been in full damage control mode since being accused of killing 90 or more civilians in an airstrike on the village of Azizabad in the Herat province of Afghanistan on August 22.
Villagers there have said that the dead included 60 children. Afghan and United Nations officials have backed their claims, saying that the evidence indicates a major civilian death toll. Locals told stories of pulling the bodies of loved ones from the rubble of destroyed homes and burying them. Residents were able to provide the names of the dead along with other details, leading U.N. investigators to conclude that there was "convincing evidence" that a massacre had occurred.
The Pentagon responded initially by dismissing the reports and stating that it had been a legitimate strike on Taliban forces. It also said it would perform its own investigation into the attack.
The findings from that investigation were released one week ago, and matched the initial statements from the Pentagon. The airstrike had been called in after U.S. and Afghan forces operating in the area had come under fire from Taliban forces, according to the Pentagon. This justified the use of air support. The airstrike killed 30 to 35 Taliban militants, the Pentagon said. It also acknowledged that some civilians had been killed, but insisted that the number was from 5 to 7.
The investigation had little credibility to begin with, not least because it was a case of the U.S. military investigating itself. The Pentagon also acknowledged that they didn't actually have access to the village because after the strike the residents refused to allow them entry. It said it analyzed photo evidence showing new graves and that in doing so, the findings supported their figures. But witnesses told reporters that in some instances victims were buried together in a single grave and that other victims were visitors whose bodies were returned to their own towns for burial. There were numerous other obvious deficiencies in the Pentagon's limited self-investigation.
Criticism of the attack continued, however, and locals and Afghan officials stood by their own account of what occurred. Facing pressure from its ally, the Pentagon agreed to a further joint investigation with the United Nations and Afghan government.
Now, it has been reported, there are video and still images taken by one or more villagers with a cellphone to further belie the Pentagon's story.