Afghan president orders probe into civilian deaths
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into a U.S.-led coalition air strike that local officials say killed 15 civilians, but the U.S. military says killed only armed Taliban militants.
The issue of civilian casualties is an emotive one in Afghanistan, feeding a common perception that international forces do not take enough care when launching air strikes, and undermining support for their continued presence in the country.
Nearly 700 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants.
Coalition ground troops called in support from attack helicopters after militants fired at an outpost in the northeastern province of Nuristan on Friday, the U.S. military said.
"The helicopter crews coordinated with ground forces to positively identify the militants' vehicles. The attack helicopters then destroyed the two vehicles, killing more than a dozen militants," it said in a statement on Saturday.
But the governor of Nuristan said 15 civilians were killed and seven wounded in the attack in the Waigal district of Nuristan and that none of the victims were militants.
Karzai ordered the Defense and Interior Ministries and a body that oversees local government to investigate, a statement from the presidential palace said on Sunday.
"President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly emphasized the (need for) coordination of military operations and has been deeply saddened since learning about this incident," it said.
Both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces say they take the utmost care to avoid killing civilians and ISAF tightened procedures for launching air strikes a year ago, which has had some effect.
ISAF accuses the Taliban of launching attacks from built-up areas to deliberately court civilian deaths and also spreading false rumors to discredit international forces.
A local official accused the U.S.-coalition of killing and wounding 30 civilians in an airstrike on a wedding ceremony in the eastern province of Nangarhar on Sunday, Afghan media said.
The U.S. military said airstrikes targeted a large group of militants in Nangarhar and no civilians were in the area.
"Intelligence revealed a large group of militants operating in Deh Bala district. Coalition forces identified the militants in a mountainous region and used precision air strikes to kill them," a U.S. military statement said.
"We don't have any reports of any civilian casualties," said U.S. military spokesman Captain Christian Patterson. "There were not any women or children present in the area."
The U.S. Pentagon said last week the Taliban would probably intensify the scope and pace of their attacks, meaning more civilians were certain to be caught in the cross-fire.
A Taliban suicide car bomber targeting German police trainers wounded three schoolgirls in relatively peaceful northern Afghanistan on Sunday, the deputy provincial police chief said.
As foreign troops get better at protecting themselves from suicide bombs, most victims are ordinary Afghans. The Taliban killed some 200 civilians in suicide bombs last year.
(Editing by Elizabeth Piper)
- Tweet this
- Share this
- Digg this