U.S. airstrikes on suspected drug-production facilities in Afghanistan’s southwestern provinces in May killed 39 civilians, a U.N. report released Wednesday found. U.S. military officials disputed the findings.
The U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan said the facilities in Farah and Nimroz provinces “were not lawful targets” according to international humanitarian law, which says that facilities that contribute economically to a war effort are considered civilian objectives.
The report says that among the 39 civilian deaths, 14 were children and one was a woman. The agency said it’s working to confirm reports of an additional 37 civilian deaths from the airstrikes.
“The report, jointly produced by UNAMA and the U.N. Human Rights Office, concludes that drug facilities and associated workers may not be lawfully made the target of attack and should be protected,” UNAMA said.
“The United Nations maintains that considering these objects and individuals legitimate targets dangerously erodes the fundamental principle of distinction, placing the broader civilian population and infrastructure at risk.”
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan, which carried out the airstrikes, disputed the United Nations’ findings. Spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said he was “deeply concerned by UNAMA’s methods and findings.”
“USFOR-A is fighting in a complex environment against those who intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of non-combatant casualties as propaganda weapons,” a USFOR-A statement said.
“USFOR-A took extraordinary measures to avoid the deaths or injuries of non-combatants.”