KABUL (Reuters) - An Afghan delegation dispatched to investigate reports of civilian deaths in a NATO raid in eastern Afghanistan has found that 13 people were killed and that some of them were armed, the president’s office said on Tuesday.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces hunting militants have long been a major source of tension between President Hamid Karzai and the Western nations whose troops help support his government in the face of a growing insurgency.
On September 25, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said more than 250 Afghan and foreign troops had battled insurgents in eastern Laghman province, killing at least 30 insurgents in an air and ground assault.
After the fighting died down, villagers said civilian family members and neighbors had been killed in the raids, prompting Karzai to send a delegation to investigate.
At the time, ISAF said there were no reports of civilian casualties and sent its own team to the area.
“According to reports from the delegation, as a result of an operation by NATO forces approximately two weeks ago in Masmut village of Alishang district in Laghman province, 13 people were killed,” Karzai’s office said in a written statement.
“Based on video evidence taken at the scene of the incident, a number of them were armed,” it said.
The statement did not say who had taken the video footage or whether some of the other dead were civilians.
Karzai told the delegation he would raise the issue at a security meeting this week and that all security sectors, including the commander of U.S. and NATO forces, General David Petraeus, should study the delegates’ findings.
A spokesman for ISAF said it had completed its independent investigation and would release further information over the next two days.
A mid-year United Nations report painted a dark picture of security in Afghanistan in the first half of 2010, with violent civilian deaths jumping 31 percent, although the total number caused by aerial attacks fell 64 percent.
It was not clear whether the dead in Laghman had been killed by ground troops or by air strikes called in to support the troops.
(Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Fox)
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