Call for USA to move bases away from civilian areas

Shafiqullah’s wife and five-year-old son died when a rocket landed on their house in the Sawkai District of Kunar Province, eastern Afghanistan, on 31 August.

[Read this story in Arabic]

At least 11 people died and five others were injured when several rockets missed their target - a nearby US military base - in Babara village. Among the dead were six children and two women, according to provincial officials.

“I do not know who fired the rockets,” the bereaved husband and father told IRIN. He bitterly condemned whoever might have had shelled his mud hut.

After the incident Shafiqullah and hundreds of other villagers held a protest rally demanding that a nearby US military base be moved out of the neighbourhood.

“We cannot leave our village… The US soldiers should leave us in peace and move their installations away from our area,” said Haji Daud, a local elder.

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The protests are not only in Sawkai District. In June hundreds of people demonstrated in Asadabad, the provincial capital, demanding that US military installations be switched to non-civilian locations.

About 2,000 US personnel are stationed in several bases throughout Kunar Province, which has a porous border with Pakistan, according to the US army.

Afghan officials say insurgents regularly cross the border, launch attacks on US and Afghan government establishments and return to safe havens just over the border.

Kunar authorities make plea

US forces operating under NATO command in Kunar Province are mostly based at military sites previously used by the Afghan government or Soviet soldiers in the 1980s.

“Provincial officials and local government leaders in Kunar are completely supportive of our locations and have already spoken to the locals on how much worse the security situation would be if we were not there,” Chris Belcher, a US army spokesperson, told IRIN.

Afghan officials acknowledge the need for international troops in Kunar and neighbouring provinces, saying they are fighting against Taliban insurgents.

“Even if coalition forces went away the Taliban and other rebels would continue killing and harming civilians,” said Zargun Shah Khaliqyar, a provincial spokesman.

However, the spokesman said mounting pressure by local people had led the provincial authorities to ask the US army to move those of its bases which happened to be near civilian areas.

According to the Geneva Conventions and International Humanitarian Law, “each party to the conflict must, to the extent feasible, avoid locating military facilities within or near densely populated areas.”

All parties are also legally bound to distinguish between military and non-military installations and avoid attacks which may harm civilians or their property.

Compensation

The US and other countries whose troops operate under the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) do not have a formal compensation fund from which to pay non-combatants affected by the fighting.

''We cannot leave our village… The US soldiers should leave us in peace and move their installations away from our area.''


US forces do, however, make ad hoc compensation payments and give humanitarian relief to families affected by their military operations.

“ISAF does not pay for the wrongdoings inflicted by insurgents on the innocent people of Afghanistan,” said Belcher of the US army.

An Afghan government official said President Karzai had tried to pay up to US$1,000 to those families which had lost a family member or property as a result of the fighting. But observers say it has been difficult to reach every family thus affected.

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