Before the strikes, he said, “both the enemy and friendly locations were verified and cleared by Afghan security forces on the ground, through the regional coordination center, which is located with the 203rd Corps operations center, prior to the strike.” That center includes both American and Afghan military officials. He confirmed, however, that no American forward air-controller was on the ground to direct the airstrike, as would normally be the case if American ground forces were involved.
The episode on Tuesday was the latest in a series of cases in which the outcomes of American airstrikes were disputed, and occurred as the tempo of coalition air actions in support of their Afghan allies has risen sharply. With only about 14,000 American soldiers in Afghanistan — compared with 140,000 at the peak of the deployment — most of the ground operations are being conducted by Afghan forces, whose air force is small and poorly equipped.
In the first six months of this year, United States forces dropped more than 3,000 bombs across Afghanistan, nearly double the number for the same period last year and more than five times as many as the number for the first half of 2016.
For this same six-month period, the United Nations documented a 52 percent increase in civilian deaths from airstrikes compared with the first half of 2017.
On July 19, an American airstrike in the Chardara District of northern Kunduz Province killed 14 members of one extended family, including women and children, according to Afghan officials in the area.
On Friday, Colonel O’Donnell said that the American investigation of the July 19 airstrike in Kunduz had been closed after determining that there were no civilian casualties. “After carefully considering all relevant and reasonably available information, which included a review of the Afghan government’s report of findings, our investigation found no credible information to corroborate the allegations,” he said.
Aerial video footage showed a single bomb dropped on two homes where the Taliban had been firing from for more than an hour, he said, and the firing stopped as soon as the bomb was dropped.