A United Nations report issued Wednesday deemed U.S. airstrikes that killed or injured at least 39 Afghan civilians unlawful.
The May airstrikes, which hit dozens of sites in the western provinces of Nimroz and Farah, were targeting what the U.S. believed to be drug labs used to fund the Taliban.
The United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and U.N. Human Rights Office said funding activities are considered civilian objectives under international law, and workers at such facilities are therefore civilians.
“UNAMA has assessed that the personnel working inside the drug production facilities were not performing combat functions. They were therefore entitled to protection from attack, and could only have lost this protection if, and for such time, as they had been directly participating in hostilities,” the report states.
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan (USFOR-A) disputed the report and its methodology in a statement.
“USFOR–A is fighting in a complex environment against those who intentionally kill and hide behind civilians, as well as use dishonest claims of non-combatant casualties as propaganda weapons,” the statement said.
“USFOR–A took extraordinary measures to avoid the deaths or injuries of non-combatants,” added the statement.
Rohullah Ahmadzai, a spokesman for the Afghan defense ministry, said in a statement that when civilian casualties occur, they are the result of Taliban forces hiding among civilians, according to Reuters.
In May, the Pentagon determined that U.S. forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in 2018. UNAMA has put the figure far higher, at more than 1,000, which the Defense Department said was because the U.N. “simply lacks access to all the information relevant to assessing whether civilian casualties resulted from U.S. military actions in any particular instance.”