Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 16 December 2019

Coalition forces killed more Afghan civilians at 2010 protest than Nato claimed

Rights group says five were shot dead by soldiers who fired on crowd, not one as alliance said

Editorial Director of the ABC Craig McMurtie speaks to members of the media outside the ABC building in Sydney. EPA
Editorial Director of the ABC Craig McMurtie speaks to members of the media outside the ABC building in Sydney. EPA

Afghanistan’s top human rights body has found that five civilians were killed and six injured during a protest near an Australian base in 2010, contrary to claims made by Nato at the time.

A report from the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission documented the casualties at the incident at Forward Operating Base Mirwais in the Chora Valley on September 17, 2010.

The base, 20 kilometres north-east of the Uruzgan capital Tarin Kot, was targeted by a protest after rumours were spread among local people that foreign forces in the base had been burning copies of the Quran. It is understood that a subsequent investigation found there was no evidence any religious texts were damaged in the base.

A three-minute video capturing some of the incident shows hundreds of men and boys approaching the base, some carrying sticks, before dozens of rocks were thrown at the roof of the base. An Australian soldier is heard saying smoke grenades would be used to disperse the crowd before the video ends without any shots fired.

Nato claimed shortly after the incident that one protester was shot by an International Security Assistance Force service member when he “aimed an AK-47” at troops in the base.

Asked today if an Australian soldier fired on demonstrators during the protest, a spokesperson for the Defence Department told The National: “yes”.

“Coalition soldiers, including an Australian, engaged the rioters in self-defence. An investigation by the Commanding Officer into the incident found that Australian and Coalition soldiers acted appropriately and in accordance with their Rules of Engagement,” they said.

Asked about the five civilians killed and six injured reported in the AIHRC document, the spokesperson said “Defence is unable to confirm any fatalities from this incident”.

The national Opposition’s Defence spokesperson, Labor MP Richard Marles, declined to comment on the matter.

The description of the video and the associated AIHRC report were made public by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, who have obtained a number of AIHRC reports.

The ABC was subjected to raids by the Australian Federal Police shortly after the Australian government was re-elected in May this year, and officers seized equipment and documents associated with the broadcaster’s "Afghan Files" reports from 2017.

Richard Di Natale, the leader of the Australian Greens, Australia’s third party, told The National earlier that the government “should be devoting more of its energy to uncovering the truth” about the conduct of Australian forces in Afghanistan, “and less raiding news agencies like the ABC for reporting on them”.

The National has reached out to him for comment.

Updated: October 23, 2019 11:55 AM

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