Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2161

Granai: the murder of an Afghan village

This article is over 14 years, 10 months old
Photojournalist Guy Smallman is the only Western reporter to visit the village that was devastated by a US air attack. He questions the conclusion of the investigation into the incident
Issue 2161
The area of the final most lethal strike (above) is a scene of total devastation. The 2,000 pound bomb flattened the buildings and killed dozens of people.  (Pic:» G
The area of the final most lethal strike (above) is a scene of total devastation. The 2,000 pound bomb flattened the buildings and killed dozens of people. (Pic: » G

On the evening of 4 May the people of Granai, a village in Farah province in western Afghanistan, attended evening prayers in their local mosque.

It had been a long day. Many families had spent over six hours sheltering from a battle some three kilometres away between Taliban insurgents and US forces and their Afghan allies.

Fighting lasted all afternoon and only ended after US warplanes strafed Taliban positions.

The battle had finished an hour and a half before the villagers began to gather in the garden of the mosque. It was dark and things had returned to normal.

Then without warning, at 8.44pm, several guided bombs landed in their midst. According to local people they killed dozens and wounded many more.

A first bomb hit the centre of the village and a second landed in a compound one kilometre to the south.

In their panic, women and children headed to a compound in the north of the village, away from the site of the first two strikes.

This group numbered some 100 people from around 15 families. At 9.12pm they were struck by a 2,000 pound guided bomb dropped by a B-1B strategic bomber.

In less than half an hour 147 innocents were dead – the biggest single loss of civilian life since the 2001 US invasion of Afghanistan.

The response from the population was immediate. A riot erupted in nearby Farah City. A furious crowd surrounded and broke the windows of the regional governor’s house.

The following Saturday angry students marched through the capital Kabul chanting, “The blood of Farah will never dry”.

I visited the village along with a guide shortly after the attack.

Granai is typical of rural Afghanistan, like many villages I have seen in my three trips to the country. The people are desperately poor, their meagre income from poppy cultivation rapidly shrinking. They have little or no access to healthcare or education.

For the most part they have no interest in the outside world – not in the occupation, its government or the insurgency. Like most Afghans, after decades of outside interference, they just want to be left alone.

Despite the news of the killings, and the photographic evidence and testimonies from the families, the US military stated that 65 Taliban insurgents had been killed in the attack, adding that 20 civilians may also have died.

Occupation forces promised an immediate and thorough investigation into what had happened.


But the US military’s enquiry into the bombing, which was released on 18 June, leaves many questions unanswered.

The 13 page unclassified document paints a frightening picture of how civilians can become targets in this unending war. According to the document a team of investigators, including US officers and Afghan officials, moved into the village to assess the impact of the airstrikes.

The report states that the first indication of the coming battle came from locals fleeing a nearby village of Dizak, eight kilometres away from Granai.

The Dizak villagers told Afghan troops that the Taliban instructed them to leave as they were preparing to attack occupation troops.

The US report says that Taliban fighters did the same in Granai.

But locals in Granai say there were no insurgents or orders to flee. This is just one of the inaccuracies and inconsistencies in the report.

The investigation notes that the mosque was destroyed in the bombing. However, it was still standing when I visited the village. The report states that “the mosque was used by the Taliban both as a madrassa [religious school] for teaching extremist ideology and as a barracks for foreign fighters”.

The only evidence produced to back up these claims was “real time intelligence” by the US commander on the ground.

The commander said that he intercepted radio messages from insurgents indicating that they were preparing to mount another attack that night.

The US officer called in a B-1B supersonic bomber that, according to the report, tracked groups of fighters for 20 minutes as they moved through the village.

Yet no evidence has been released to back up this claim.

All the cockpit footage from the bombers and unmanned drones that were present during the slaughter remain classified for undisclosed reasons.

The report states that during the actual battle that afternoon four F-18 Hornet warplanes “conducted a show of force, dropping flares”.

The commander decided, in the middle of the battle, to “warn” the insurgents. But he gave no warning when he ordered the deadly B-1B attack on the village.

Similarly, as Granai was far from the site of battle, the easiest way to tell if they were actually groups of fighters would have been to track them once they left the village and began moving towards occupation troops.

By this time the Afghan soldiers were joined by US marines and could have easily engaged the advancing fighters.

Yet the decision was taken to attack Granai hours after the battle had ended.

The B-1B dropped two bombs. Then, according to the military, “The crew identified a third group form in the centre of the village… similarly sized adults moving rapidly in the dark across difficult terrain in an evenly spaced formation – and led both the B-1B commander and the ground forces commander to believe this group was another Taliban element.”

According to the battle map produced in the report, this group of people were heading north, away from the occupation troops.

So they did not present any immediate danger if they were fighters, and there could have been a chance for the “real time intelligence” to show that they were in fact groups of women and children.

The report also claims that two thirds of the 80 casualties were “Taliban extremists”. Yet the documentary evidence lists names and dates of birth of those killed. We know that 93 of the fatalities were children.

It is absurd to describe these people as “similarly sized adults”. And “moving rapidly across difficult terrain” is a strange formulation, as the people were using the same track through the village they used every day.

More disturbing than the report itself is what it omits to say. Nowhere do the authors question the wisdom of dropping devastating 2,000 pound bombs on a civilian area.


Nor does the document point out that there was no engagement between the insurgents and occupation forces in the village itself. Neither me nor my translator saw a single bullet hole or shell casing during our visit.

The villagers insist that the Taliban did not retreat to Granai after the battle, nor were fresh forces brought into the village. Their claims ring true as the village is bordered by a river and swamp.

A large group of fighters entering the area would have been trapped by the local geography and cut down by occupation forces.

And as the report points out, the Taliban had driven locals out of a nearby village to set up firing positions. Why they did not do the same in Granai is left unexplained.

In their report the Americans say, “No one will ever be able conclusively to determine the number of civilian casualties.”

Yet high above Granai lie row upon row of traditional Muslim graves. My guide took me to the resting place of his sister and her children who died in the final airstrike.

He said that some of the graves contained entire families. The villagers had used a tractor to dig the holes in their desperate rush to bury the victims the following day in keeping with tradition.

At one end of the village cemetery lies an enormous mass grave stretching 30 metres across. It contains the remains of 55 people who had to be buried together as it was impossible to match the body parts recovered with individuals.

The massacre at Granai is the latest incident in a string of similar attacks by occupation forces that have claimed thousands of innocent lives.

Neither the US military nor their allies plan to stop targeting villages.

And the US commander who gave the orders to bomb the sleepy village in western Afghanistan has not been disciplined.


Sign up for our daily email update ‘Breakfast in Red’

Latest News

Make a donation to Socialist Worker

Help fund the resistance