'Afghan Civilians Killed' in US/Nato Military Operations; School Children Among Dead

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Agence France-Presse

'Afghan Civilians Killed' in US/Nato Military Operations; School Children Among Dead

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Civilian deaths cause widespread anger among Afghans exhausted by decades of war and are readily exploited in Taliban propaganda.[File: Getty Images]

KABUL – Ten
civilians, mostly school children, have been killed during Western
military operations in eastern Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's
office said Monday, citing "initial reports".

Karzai condemned the killings, which his statement said took place in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan, on Saturday.

"Initial
reports indicate that in a series of operations by international forces
in Kunar province... 10 civilians, eight of them school students, have
been killed," the statement said.

"President Karzai strongly
condemns the operation which caused civilian deaths and has appointed a
delegation to investigate the incident," it said.

A senior
official in the Afghan government, speaking on condition anonymity,
said the death toll could change because investigations are ongoing.

When
contacted Sunday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)
had no information on any operations or casualties in Kunar.

A
senior Western military official told AFP that US special forces have
been conducting operations against militants in the border regions of
Kunar.

"They have been killing a lot of Taliban and capturing a lot of Taliban," he said, speaking on condition that he not be named.

The
operations were conducted independently of NATO and coalition forces,
which number more than 110,000, fighting to eradicate the Taliban, he
said.

Politicians representing Kunar walked out of an important
parliamentary session debating appointments to Karzai's new cabinet to
protest against the civilian casualties, television showed.

The
border regions of Kunar have long been volatile as Taliban fighters are
said to cross the porous border from Pakistan to fight Western troops
and Afghan government forces.

The Afghan Taliban is led by
Mullah Mohammed Omar, believed to be based in Pakistan, who has
promised a surge of his own to match the influx of almost 40,000 US and
NATO troops pledged for the coming year.

The reinforcements are
part of a new strategy as Western military leaders and politicians try
to turn around an eight-year war that is seen increasingly going the
Taliban's way.

"In 33 out of 34 provinces, the Taliban has a
shadow government," a Western military intelligence official told
reporters on Sunday.

Omar "has a government-in-waiting, with ministers chosen" for the day the government falls, he added.

"Time
is running out. Taliban influence is expanding," the military official
warned. "Where the (Afghan) government is weak, the enemy is strong"
and able to exploit the corruption and unpopularity of Karzai's
administration, he said.

US General Stanely McChrystal, who
commands the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been at pains to
minimise civilian casualties in the fighting, although many are killed
in Taliban suicide and roadside bomb attacks.

Civilian deaths
cause widespread anger among Afghans exhausted by decades of war and
are readily exploited in Taliban propaganda.

ISAF had no immediate comment on the Kunar operations.

US
military sources said US Special Forces generally operate in
Afghanistan outside the ISAF mission, as Operation Enduring Freedom.

Most
recently, Karzai condemned the killing of six civilians during a NATO
raid in early December as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed US
troop reinforcements would keep civilian deaths to a minimum.

Karzai's
office said six civilians, including a woman, died when troops from
ISAF conducted an operation in Laghman province on the night of
December 2.

Earlier Monday, officials said Taliban-linked
militants stormed a police post in northwestern Afghanistan, sparking a
gunfight that killed two police and left three others missing.

The
militants attacked the post late Sunday in Badghis province, killing
two officers, provincial police chief Sayed Ahmad Sameh told AFP.

Three other policemen were missing, he added.

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