Twelve days before the pine nut crop period, the governor of East Nangarhar Province of Afghanistan got a letter from the village authorities in WazirTangi about their intentions to hire 200 workers and kids to pick up the dry fruit.
The document, published by Reuters and dated 7 September, was sent in an attempt to assist safeguard workers from being trapped in conflicts between the US-backed Afghan forces and ISIS militants in hilly areas mainly ruled by jihadis.
Taliban insurgents and ISIS militants fought each other to regulate the province’s natural resources. U.S. and Afghan forces regularly perform aerial raids to regain ownership of the land given to militant organizations.
Wednesday, just hours after landowners, workers and kids completed their day’s job of plucking pine nuts in the highly wooded region and burned bonfires close their homes, a U.S. drone hit the site, killing 30 people and wounding 40 others, according to three Afghan regional authorities.
Local citizens voiced surprise and frustration that the assault had taken place amid the email and subsequent assurances of safety to the employees.
“We had huddled together around small bonfires and we were discussing the security situation in our villages, but suddenly everything changed. There was destruction everywhere,” said Akram Sultan, one of the survivors who hid behind a tree before running into the forest along with some children.
Sultan was one of 200 Afghan farm laborers employed to harvest and shell pine nuts on soil given to several village chiefs in the WazirTangi region. Up to 23,000 tonnes of pine nuts are generated worldwide in Afghanistan and the nation has started to export up to $800 million value of the plant to China worldwide through the air corridor.
Before the recruitment began, the village authorities requested clearance from the state governor and local officials of the ISIS combatants to guarantee that the operation could be performed out in the strongly disputed region.
“The warring sides had given their consent and contractors were hired to bring in labourers from neighbouring provinces … no illegal activity was being pursued, but even then, the US drone killed innocent people,” SohrabQadri, a member of the Nangarhar provincial council, told Reuters.
A spokesperson for the US troops in Afghanistan stated on Thursday that the drone strike was being carried out by the United States with a view to removing the hiding places of ISIS combatants.
Asked about the note sent by the village authorities to the governor, Colonel Sonny Leggett said it would be component of the inquiry.
“Initial indications are members of Daesh (IS) were among those targeted in the strike,” Leggett said, using a term for ISIS. “However, we are working with local officials to determine whether there was collateral damage.”
The governor of Nangarhar, Shah MahmoodMiakhel, was not accessible for comments. ISIS has not made any comments or data about the deaths it suffered in the drone strike. The U.S. representative did not remark on the accident data.
MalakKhaiyali Khan, the leader of the village of Jaora in the WazirTangi region, sent his teenage son along with three peers to shell pine nuts. On Thursday night, four bodies were sent to Khan, including that of his child.
“My son and his friends were killed by the Americans. How could they do this to us?” said Khan, who was leading a protest against the strike before the burial rites.
Angry citizens brought bodies to Jalalabad, the state center, on Thursday afternoon to celebrate the assault.
In its recent study, the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan stated that land raids and conflicts have created the most civilian casualties in the nation, accompanied by bomb assaults and aerial strikes.
Air attacks by the US and Afghan forces killed 363 people and wounded 156 others in Afghanistan in the first quarter of this year, according to the UN study. Among the killed and injured were 150 kids, he added.
Last year, Nangarhar province experienced the largest amount of civilian casualties. According to a UN study, at least 681 people have been killed in suicide attacks, landmine explosions and aerial strikes in the province. The province has big mineral reserves and is located on significant smuggling paths to Pakistan.