This report by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) examines the consequences of the United States (U.S.) airstrikes on alleged drug facilities in Bakwa district, Farah province, and parts of the bordering Delaram district, Nimroz province on 5 May 2019. The U.S. Forces Afghanistan (USFOR-A) carried out a series of airstrikes targeting more than 60 drug labs believed to be controlled and operated by the Taliban. The U.S. argued that the facilities were used directly to fund the Taliban war operations and, as such, represented legitimate military targets. Additionally, USFOR-A contended that all the persons working inside the laboratories were Taliban combatants and could be legally targeted even when not taking direct part in the hostilities. The argument runs counter the most common assumption that civilians working in military objectives are not combatants and are to be considered incidental collateral damage.
UNAMA was unable to corroborate the U.S. statement on the nature of the drug labs. In fact, according to its findings, the drug production facilities in Bakwa district were not controlled and operated exclusively by the Taliban, but rather they were owned and operated by criminal groups with connections to international drug trafficking networks. UNAMA fact-finding mission also revealed that some of the impact sites in Bakwa district were residential homes, marketplaces and other civilian objectives, in which drug processing had not taken place. UNAMA was able to verify 39 casualties and has credible information about 37 more.
The report notes that that drug facilities and the personnel working in the laboratories did not constitute a legitimate military target. The fact that a facility potentially provides an economic or financial contribution to the war effort of a party to a conflict is not sufficient to make it a military objective. UNAMA and OHCHR further assert that the personnel working inside the drug lab was not performing combat function and, thus, should have been protected from an attack.
In light of the fact-finding and legal analysis, UNAMA and OHCHR’s report encourages the U.S. to conduct an independent and transparent investigation on scope of the civilian harm, cease the targeting of war-sustaining facilities and drug labs, and provide appropriate redress to the victims and their family members.