An air strike carried out by a Dutch F-16 fighter jet in the southern Afghan province of Helmand has killed at least eight Afghan civilians, including six children. The F-16 conducted a precision bombing raid on a suburb of Lashkar Gah, capital of Helmand province.
A spokesman for the British armed forces confirmed the casualties, "ISAF forces take every precaution to prevent civilian deaths. But it sadly looks that this case is a result of the enemy shooting at an ISAF patrol. When fire was returned, eight civilians, six of them children, were killed".
The commander of the Dutch armed forces, General Peter van Uhm could not confirm the report but says the airstrike followed extensive fighting between British ISAF forces with Taliban insurgents.
General Van Uhm says he regrets the civilian casualties but blamed the Taliban for the deaths. Two Dutch F-16s were sent to provide air support to ISAF soldiers involved in a gun battle. General van Uhm says a number of civilians, including women and children, were in the compound that Taliban insurgents were using to attack ISAF forces. The General added, "Ultimately we are here to help people. It is deeply sad that because of the actions of the Taliban we have civilian victims. This shows once again that the opponent does not obey God or any law.'
ISAF is now in talks with the victims' families and tribal leaders to see how the mission can help the injured and relatives.
General van Uhm told journalists an investigation was under way but the Dutch pilot had followed all the rules of combat, "According to the data we have from the pilot, we can see that he complied with all procedures". The General says he spoke to the pilot in Kandahar and the military's preliminary findings were "very reassuring for the pilot".
Hans Couzy, former commander of the Dutch armed forces, says there are strict rules that pilots have to comply with before they can carry out an attack: "The pilot gets the coordinates of the target. He has to confirm the call. Dutch pilots are extremly well trained," adding, "they check carefully to make sure everything is alright in order to prevent civilian casulties. In the past they refused several times to execute the mission because they were not sure whether civilians would be hit."
General Van Uhm visited the troops in Afghanistan earlier this week. He remains confident about the mission, "Every time I come here, I see progress''.