Afghans: US Airstrikes Kill 14 Workers

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Associated Press

Afghans: US Airstrikes Kill 14 Workers

Amir Shah

KABUL, Afghanistan - U.S.-led coalition troops killed 14 road construction workers in airstrikes in eastern Afghanistan after receiving faulty intelligence, Afghan officials said Wednesday.1128 08

The coalition said it was looking into the incident in Nuristan province, but did not immediately comment. NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it has conducted airstrikes against Taliban fighters in the area, but did not say when.

"ISAF was engaged in Nurgaram and Du Ab (districts), and in those places we used airstrikes against (Taliban)," ISAF spokesman Brig. Gen. Carlos Branco told a news conference. "The situation is not clear at all at this stage. We are carrying out the investigation and trying to get a clear picture."

The engineers and laborers had been building a road for the U.S. military in mountainous Nuristan province, and were sleeping in two tents in the remote area when they were killed Monday night, said Sayed Noorullah Jalili, director of the Kabul-based road construction company Amerifa. There were no survivors, he said.

"All of our poor workers have been killed," Jalili said. "I don't think the Americans were targeting our people. I'm sure it's the enemy of the Afghans who gave the Americans this wrong information."

Jalili earlier said 22 workers were killed, but he said the latest reports indicated the death toll was 14. He did not say why the preliminary figures were higher.

The report could not be independently verified because the area is remote and inaccessible.

The company has requested that the U.S. military investigate the source of its information, Jalili said.

Nuristan Gov. Tamim Nuristani said the coalition conducted airstrikes after receiving reports that "the enemy" was in the area, and hit the road construction workers as they were sleeping. Afghan officials often refer to the Taliban and other militants as "the enemy."

Jalili said the workers were from four nearby provinces, and that all but three of the bodies had been returned to their homes.

Earlier this year, foreign troops came under scathing criticism for conducting airstrikes based on poor intelligence and causing a number of civilian casualties.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai pleaded repeatedly with NATO and coalition troops to cooperate closely with their Afghan counterparts to prevent civilian deaths, and the number of such incidents has dropped significantly in the past few months.

NATO's Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said last week in Kabul that the alliance has "worked hard" to change its procedures in order to avoid civilian deaths, following U.N. criticism that the foreign troops were behind an alarming number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan.

This has been the deadliest year yet for Afghanistan since the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, with more than 6,000 people killed in militant attacks and military operations, according to an AP tally of figures from Afghan and western officials.

Amerifa, an 11-year-old company, received the contract to build 135 miles of road for the U.S. military last year, Jalili said.

© 2007 The Associated Press

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