While the US media has not yet paid much attention to the story, international sources are buzzing with concern over accusations made to the United Nations that US forces were involved in the execution-style killing of a group of Afghan students in the village of Ghazi Khan in the Kunar province of Eastern Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has initiated an investigation of the attack which took place last Sunday.
The details from various sources are contradictory, but it appears that in response to reports of an al Qaeda cell in Ghazi Khan which was manufacturing and deploying IEDs in the area, a joint force of US and Afghan forces were taken by helicopter to the village at night. They infiltrated the village and located a house where two teachers and eight students between the ages of 10 and 15 were gathered. They entered the house and shot the two teachers, then handcuffed the students and then either shot them in the building and took the bodies outside or took them outside and shot them there.
Important details of the story are unclear. Some reports describe the students as children, but photographs of the victims suggest that they were at least in their mid-teens and possibly older, and it is certainly not unprecedented for teenagers to be involved in terrorism and guerrilla warfare. Also not answered is the question of whether IED materials were found in the house which was raided. There are also questions about whether the forces involved were primarily Americans or Afghan soldiers, and exactly who was responsible for the killings.
The most serious concern about this incident is not the age of the civilians killed, but the fact that they seem to have been effectively executed after they had been subdued, which is a clear violation of US military protocol and the Geneva Convention. Also at issue is the general rise in civilian casualties in Iraq and accusations that US forces may be engaging in reprisals for the deaths of seven CIA operatives in a suicide bombing last week.
Further investigation is called for, and not just from the Afghan government and the United Nations. The US government and media should take a proactive role in getting to the bottom of these events and making the results of the investigation public.