Doubts Cast on US Claims of Hitting Anti-China Militants in Afghanistan

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An independent study has questioned the veracity of U.S. claims its recent counterterrorism airstrikes in northeastern Afghanistan targeted "support structures" of anti-China militants. Kabul-based Afghanistan Analysts Network (AAN) said Monday its investigation into last month’s bombing raids in Badakhshan has found “no credible evidence” that Uighur extremists use the province as a training ground or base to plan attacks. A February 6 U.S. military statement, backed by video images, asserted that its “precision [air] strikes” in Badakhshan disrupted planning and rehearsal of terrorist acts by militants linked to the East Turkistan Islamic Movement, ETIM. China accuses ETIM of being behind terrorist attacks in the country, especially in its border province of Xinjiang. The militant group claims to be fighting for independence of ethnic Uighur Muslims in the Chinese province. “The impression given by USFOR-A [U.S. forces in Afghanistan] news releases of airstrikes targeting a Uighur terror organization threatening to launch cross-border attacks from Badakhshan does not accord with reality and amounts to tilting at windmills,” noted the AAN report. When contacted by VOA for his reaction to AAN’s report, U.S. military spokesman Captain Tom Gresback in Kabul said, “We will look into this matter and respond to you just as soon as we can.” Beijing has long alleged ETIM militants have ties to extremist groups operating out of border areas of Afghanistan and Pakistan and use the two countries for plotting terrorist attacks against China. “But even if there is some organizational affiliation, given the near-impossibility of any insurgents making their way across the border into China and the absence of insurgent activity along the Afghan–Tajik border in Badakhshan, it is hard to take seriously any claims that they pose a credible cross-border threat,” according to AAN. The watchdog noted U.S. refusal to offer casualty figures, and discrepancies in post-airstrikes statements made by Afghan military spokespeople regarding nationalities of at least six fatalities the airstrikes caused in Badakhsan.      

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