Afghan authorities reject UNAMA’s report on civilian casualty in Farah

Opium production and drug trafficking are two of many funding sources that fuel the war engine of Taliban insurgency. The Taliban raise millions of dollars from taxes they impose on poppy cultivation and drug trafficking.

The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said airstrikes—conducted on May 05, 2019— killed 39 civilians including one woman and 14 children in western Farah province. According to UNAMA the airstrikes targeted over 60 sites in Bakwa district in Farah and in parts of Delaram district of Nimroz province.

“This was the first time that UNAMA had received reports of a large number of civilian casualties resulting from such an operation,” the report said.

Afghan authorities say the airstrikes were conducted to target the drug facilities run by the Taliban in western Farah province. The restive western Farah province, which shares border with Iran, serves a campsite for the Taliban insurgents.   

The report, jointly produced by UNAMA and the UN Human Rights Office, says those who are working in drug facilities are civilians, and according to international humanitarian law, facilities that contribute economically or financially to the war effort of a party to a conflict are considered civilian objectives.

UNAMA’s report, however, provoked reactions among the Afghan authorities and US forces in the country. The Afghan government and the United States Forces – Afghanistan (USFOR-A) say the airstrikes targeted the drug facilities run by the Taliban insurgents in Farah province.

Nassrat Rahimi, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Interior, told Kabul Now, “The Taliban members who were killed in the [drug] producing facilities were not civilians.” He said that the drug facilities were owned and run by the Taliban.

According the MoI, 68 drug producing facilities were destroyed, 150 Taliban members were killed, and 40 others were injured in the airstrikes.

Col Sonny Leggett, a spokesperson for USFOR-A has also rejected the report, saying “USFOR-A is deeply concerned by UNAMA’s methods and findings.” The US military official added that they follow the highest standards of accuracy and accountability to avoid harm to non-combatants and collateral damage.

The Taliban have welcomed UNAMA’s report in a statement issued on October 10, claiming that thousands of such attacks were carried out by US forces and their Afghan allies since 2001 in Afghanistan.

Talking to Kabul Now, a Farah councilman, said the workers who were killed were civilians but another member of Farah provincial council and an Afghan MP who represents Farah refused UNAMA’s report.

Abdul Samad Salehi, a provincial councilman, said workers, who have been killed in airstrikes targeted drug producing, were civilians. Forced by unemployment, young locals seek job in drug producing facilities, he stated.  

But Shah Mahmood Naeemi, a member of Farah PC, says civilian death toll was not as high as the UNAMA reported. He underlines those workers who were killed in the facilities were not civilians. “They are also armed people,” he said about the workers. To escape being targeted, the Taliban set up drug producing facilities in villages where civilians live, Naeemi said.

Homayoun Shahidzada, an MP who represents Farah, also rejected civilian casualties. He says civilian houses were not harmed for drug facilities are located in very far distances from civilian houses. He said workers who work in Taliban-run drug producing facilities are de facto Taliban members.  

A day after the airstrikes, the MoI said the Taliban would earn USD 1 million on daily basis from the drug facilities that were destroyed by the airstrikes. The ministry claims the Taliban would produce 1,200 K-Tab in these facilities.

The Time, citing US officials, reported on February 02 that opium trafficking is estimated to make up 65% of the Taliban’s income.

According to Afghanistan opium survey 2018, conducted by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), Taliban collected up to USD 6 million from taxation they imposed on opium production and other taxes on the earnings from manufacturing and trafficking of drug in Afghanistan. Insurgents and other non-state groups raise some USD 29 million from opium taxes.