Provincial police in eastern Afghanistan reported that at least five civilians were killed Friday night in a North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) [official website] airstrike near Jalalabad. NATO spokesman Lt. Col. William Griffin confirmed [AFP report] that Afghan and Coalition forces carried out a precision strike in Behsud district of Nangarhar province, but stated that it was a response to an attack by insurgents and that NATO's initial reports showed no civilian casualties. Afghan officials reported that the civilians who were allegedly killed had been bird hunting with air guns prior to the attack and that they were all between the ages of 12 and 20 years old. Griffin indicated that NATO would continue to look into the situation.
Reported civilian casualties have been a source of ongoing tension between NATO and US forces and the Afghan population throughout their occupation of the country as part of the US-led War on Terror [JURIST backgrounder] and has drawn significant criticisms from human rights groups. The current US policy of justifying all targeted strikes, both piloted and drone, with reference to both armed conflict and self-defense has been condemned [JURIST op-ed] for its detrimental effect on current implementation and future development of the law of war regarding such strikes. In September, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay [official profile] called on the Afghan government to strengthen humans rights efforts [JURIST report] in preparation for presidential elections in April 2014, urging the government in particular to combat the growing rates of civilian casualties. In July a UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) [official website] mid-year report indicated [JURIST report] a 23 percent rise in the number of Afghan civilian casualties over the first six months of 2013 as compared to the same period last year.