WASHINGTON, July 16, 2006 – Assessments from Helmand Province, Afghanistan, do not conclude that non-combatants were killed as a result of operations against extremists on July 12, according to coalition officials. Extremists likely fabricated reports of civilian deaths as a propaganda ploy to discredit coalition forces and the government of Afghanistan, officials said today.
"We take great care to prevent and minimize any damage to property or injury to law-abiding citizens," said Col. Tom Collins, a coalition spokesman for Combined Forces Command Afghanistan. "We will continue in our operations to defeat those who attempt to impose their will upon the local population through intimidation and fear.
"We also call on the citizens of Helmand to cooperate with the coalition to defeat extremists who offer nothing for the betterment of the people," Collins continued. "Until such time as a sufficiently safe and secure environment is established in Helmand province, development prospects will remain limited and the population's quality of life will remain low."
On July 12, 20 extremists engaged a coalition patrol with rocket-propelled grenades and machine-gun fire in and around the village of Sharageh in Helmand province, needlessly putting innocent civilians in danger, officials said. Close-air support was available but not employed due to the possibility of endangering innocent Afghan civilians. It is a common extremist tactic to fight without regard for civilian lives, and to mix in with and operate around civilians. Extremists do this knowing coalition forces will use extraordinary restraint to prevent injury to innocent civilians, officials said.
For example, on July 13 in Uruzgan province near the district of Khas Uruzgan, ANA and coalition forces repelled an attack by 20 enemy fighters with small-arms fire, killing one extremist. The joint patrols took precautions to avoid harm to Afghan civilians during the operation, and there were no reports of Afghan civilian injuries. Coalition forces have had a presence in the Nowzad district since mid-May, working alongside the Afghan National Police to protect the district's center in assisting the provincial government in providing security. The coalition forces have come under repeated attack from extremists.
During engagements in the last 16 days, the coalition has reported 22 attacks, including 13 incidents of small-arms fire, 13 incidents of heavy machine-gun fire, 48 incidents in which rocket-propelled grenades were used, 40 in which mortar rounds were used and five sniper attacks. In response to the ferocity of these attacks, air support was called in on six occasions, officials said. Ordnance was dropped against identified locations from which extremists were firing at coalition forces and no munitions missed their targets.
In one strike, the coalition did hit a building used as a former school that had been closed by the Taliban. This building was empty for some time and extremists were using it as a position to launch mortar attacks, officials said.
Other areas targeted in the July 12 operation also were clear of civilians after days of fighting between coalition forces and extremists. One ANP member was wounded during the operations. The coalition expects extremists to continue to level accusations of civilian deaths against the coalition as a propaganda ploy, officials said. Although the coalition takes every allegation seriously, extremist spokespeople fabricate claims on a near-daily basis, they said.
Officials urged media representatives to be skeptical about such reports and to validate claims with the coalition or Afghan government officials before reporting on them. Coalition forces take extreme precautions to limit the chance of civilian casualties. But officials said that as long as the enemy chooses to fight in or near civilians, the possibility of civilians being endangered will exist.