Reports of Civilian Deaths Inflame Tensions in Afghanistan

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Associated Press

Reports of Civilian Deaths Inflame Tensions in Afghanistan

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Slain Afghan children lie on a bed covered with flowers, in Kabul on September 1, 2008. Hundreds of Afghans took to the streets Monday in protest at what they said was the murder of four civilians, including two baby boys, in an early morning raid by international troops. (AFP/Massoud Hossaini)

KABUL - Foreign and
Afghan forces killed five children in two separate incidents Monday,
further inflaming tensions in the country over the killings of
civilians by troops from the U.S.-led coalition.

NATO said Monday it had accidentally killed three children in an
artillery strike in eastern Afghanistan. It said NATO forces had fired
the rounds after insurgents attacked its patrol in the Gayan district
of Paktika Province and one of the rounds hit a house, killing three
children and injuring seven civilians.

In a separate incident, foreign and Afghan forces killed a man and
his two children and during a raid near Kabul, the police and witnesses
said. Angry men gathered at the victims' house in the Utkheil area east
of the capital, where the three bodies were displayed inside a
mud-walled compound. The man's wife was wounded in the operation, said
Yahya Khan, a cousin.

NATO issued an unusual statement Monday warning that the Taliban
planned to make a false claim about the killings of civilians in the
south.

The latest deaths deepened strains between the Afghan government -
under pressure from an increasingly irate public - and foreign forces
in the country who are accused of killing dozens of civilians only in
the past few weeks.

Afghan officials accuse foreign forces of killing up to 90 civilians
during an Aug. 22 operation in the country's west. The U.S. denies the
accusation, saying its troops and Afghan commandos killed 25 militants
and five civilians in the operation.

The raid in the eastern outskirts of Kabul was conducted by U.S.
troops backed by Afghan intelligence agents, said a police officer,
Qubaidullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name. He said the raid
killed a man and two of his children and wounded his wife.

The raid left the house with broken windows and bullet holes in the
walls. Three other men, all the victims' cousins, were detained during
the operation but later released, Khan said.

A U.S. coalition spokesman, First Lieutenant Nathan Perry, said no
American troops had taken part in the operation. NATO-led forces said
they had no information about the raid and could not confirm their
troops participated either.

Separately, NATO said it was anticipating a Taliban claim of further
civilian casualties in the south. In a statement late Sunday, NATO said
it had received information from "a reliable source" that insurgents
planned to falsely claim international military forces killed up to 70
civilians in the Sangin district in southern Helmand Province.

The military alliance also said its forces had helped more than 20
wounded civilians who approached two of its bases in Helmand province.

NATO said the civilians were wounded in two separate incidents involving insurgents.

"Insurgents ransacked three compounds and killed three women and an
unspecified number of children," in Helmand's Sarevan Qaleh village,
NATO said in a statement, quoting one of the wounded.

"He then reported that the insurgents had shot him in both kneecaps before fleeing," it said.

The claims could not be independently verified and have not been reported by the Afghan authorities.

NATO said it condemns the "use of the plight of innocent civilians for propaganda gain by insurgents."

The claim of civilian casualties came hours after the separate
U.S.-led coalition command said its troops had killed more than 220
insurgents in a week of fighting in the same province. The coalition
did not say where the militants were killed.

It was unclear whether the two reports were related.

The issue of civilian deaths is a particularly sensitive topic in
Afghanistan following the Aug. 22 bombing of the village of Azizabad in
Herat Province by the U.S.-led coalition. An Afghan government
commission said 90 civilians were killed, a finding backed by a
preliminary United Nations report.

The U.S. military has said 25 militants and five civilians were killed, and that it is investigating the incident.

The U.S. has long said insurgents use false civilian death claims as
a propaganda tool to undermine support for international forces and the
government of President Hamid Karzai.

Claims of civilian deaths can be tricky. Relatives of Afghan victims
are given condolence payments by the government and the international
military forces, providing an incentive to make false claims.

But Karzai has castigated Western military commanders over civilian
deaths resulting from their raids. The Taliban and other insurgents use
the deaths as leverage to turn Afghans away from the government, he
says.

The top NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, Brigadier General Richard
Blanchette, said Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition, Afghan
government and United Nations would jointly investigate the Aug. 22
raid.

 

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