An American blitz on dozens of Taliban drug factories in Western Afghanistan killed at least 30 civilians and may have left dozens more dead, a United Nations report has found.
United States aircraft struck more than 60 methamphetamine labs earlier this year during a one-day onslaught to deny Taliban insurgents income from the lucrative drug trade.
The raids killed at least 30 civilians according to a UN investigation and may have killed a further 30. The UN also said the raids broke international law because drugs workers are not considered a legitimate military target.
American forces in Afghanistan immediately disputed the reports findings, saying they disagreed with the UN’s methods, analysis and “narrow definition” of legitimate targets.
A spokesman said the labs had been under lengthy surveillance before they were struck and “extraordinary measures” had been taken to avoid killing civilians. Col Sonny Leggett said he was “deeply concerned” by the UN’s methods and findings.
Taliban insurgents have long been accused of obtaining huge sums from the country’s extensive opium trade, as militants tax production and levy protection money. Methamphetamine production has recently been added to the country’s drugs business, with UN officials earlier this year warning seizures were growing exponentially.
The May 5 raids in Farah and Nimroz province were carried out after “comprehensive intelligence confirmed that all personnel inside of the laboratories were Taliban combatants”, the US told investigators.
Investigators verified 30 civilians killed and nine injured, including 14 children, but said they were investigating “reliable and credible information” another 30 civilians were also killed, the UN said.
The UN in its report contended the drug facilities were owned and operated by criminal groups, so "did not meet the definition of legitimate military objectives under international law."
The factories and workers inside “may not be lawfully made the target of attack based on their possible economic or financial contribution to the war effort of a party to a conflict,” it concluded.
The US, however, insisted the labs were run and owned by the Taliban, who used revenue to "fund ongoing indiscriminate violence against innocent Afghans".