ISAF says it found hijacked fuel tankers near Kunduz, with no civilians around, so it bombed the two tankers. There are, however, reports of civilian casualties.
There are some disturbing angles to this: supposedly, after McChrystal’s new rules of engagement, if pilots have any doubt about the presence of civilians, they are meant to hold their fire. It’s frustrated the Marines fighting in the south, but the intent is at least a good one. The Reuters story on the air strike, however, is disappointing:
“After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents,” she said.
“The strike was against insurgents. That’s who we believe was killed. But we are absolutely investigating” reports of civilian deaths, she said.
Asked how pilots could know whether a crowd around the trucks included civilians, she said: “Based on information available at the scene, the commanders believed they were insurgents.”
I really hope they didn’t just assume the crowd around the tankers was all insurgent, and bomb them based on that assumption. Normally much more foresight and review goes into non-critical air strikes.
Then there’s this bit from the BBC:
Kunduz province Governor Mohammad Omar said most of the dead were Taliban fighters – some of whom were Chechens – although other sources say many villagers had been killed while collecting fuel from the tankers.
Seriously burned people are crowding a hospital in Kunduz, AFP reported.
Witness Mohammad Daud, 32, told AFP the militants had been trying to transport the tankers across a river to villages in Angorbagh.
“They managed to take one of the tankers over the river. The second got stuck so they told villagers to come and take the diesel,” he said.
“Villagers rushed to the fuel tanker with any available container that they had, including water buckets and pots for cooking oil.
“There were 10 to 15 Taliban on top of the tanker. This was when they were bombed. Everyone around the fuel tanker died.”
Oh, I see, we have no idea who died, except that they were insurgents, and oh yeah there were Chechens, too? Gimme a break people. Uzbeks, I would believe—there are actual Uzbeks in the area, and IMU is rumored to be making a comeback of sorts. But Chechens? Puleez.
Meanwhile, the obvious caveats apply: we still don’t know what happened, but it looks bad right now. If there were 40 civilians at the tankers getting fuel when those pilots bombed it, this is a disaster. It would tell me—again—that for all his hifalutin’ talk about caring about the population, we’re just doing the same old thing, only with progressively worse consequences as time goes on.