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US and NATO Strikes Exact Heavy Toll In Afghanistan

by Carlotta Gall

KABUL -  U.S. and NATO missile strikes continued to exact a heavy toll in Afghanistan, with at least 13 Afghans killed in two incidents over the weekend that Afghan officials said were mistakes.

One NATO soldier was also killed in the eastern province of Khost. Although NATO did not give the nationality of the soldier, U.S. forces are deployed in Khost.

Nine Afghan policemen were killed and five others wounded in a case of friendly fire in western Afghanistan when a joint convoy of Afghan and U.S. forces called in airstrikes on a group they thought to be militants. Separately, at least four people were killed when two mortars fired by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan went astray.

The U.S. military announced it was beginning an investigation into the first incident. The joint Afghan and U.S. force came under attack in the province of Farah from an unknown force while conducting nighttime operations in Ana Dara District, a statement issued from Bagram Air Base said. Coalition forces returned fire and then called in airstrikes on the group firing at them.

The presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said the strikes had been a case of friendly fire. Among those wounded was the police chief of the district, the deputy provincial governor said, according to Reuters.

A NATO statement said that at least four civilians had been accidentally killed, and four other civilians wounded, in mortar strikes by the NATO-led force, ISAF, in the eastern province of Paktika.

The incident took place Saturday night at Barmal, on the border with Pakistan in an area where militants frequently cross from Pakistan's tribal regions.

The wounded civilians were brought to a NATO base and were evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility, the alliance said. "ISAF deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way," NATO said in its statement.

The latest casualties came as Senator Barack Obama was on his first visit to Afghanistan with a congressional delegation.

The British humanitarian organization, Oxfam, used the opportunity to warn against the growing human cost of the war in Afghanistan.

"The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, with an alarming increase in civilian casualties," Oxfam said. "All parties to the conflict must do everything possible to avoid causing harm to civilians."

"Unless the next American president, whether it is Senator Obama or Senator McCain, builds on the existing commitments to help lift the Afghan people out of extreme poverty and protect civilians, it will be impossible for the country to achieve lasting peace," it said.

The organization also urged the U.S. government to stop spending assistance funds on expensive foreign contractors and instead find more creative and sustainable ways to assist the people directly, especially in rural development.

Meanwhile, a group of American lawyers who are in Kabul to work on cases of Afghans detained in the American base at Bagram called on the U.S. government to end the legal "black hole" in which hundreds of detainees are held.

The lawyers from the International Justice Network raised the case of Jawed Ahmad, an Afghan journalist detained for nearly nine months at Bagram along with some 650 other Afghan detainees. None of the detainees has been charged and none is allowed lawyers, according to Tina Foster, the director of the organization, and Barbara Olshansky, a human rights professor from Stanford University.

© 2008 International Herald Tribune

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