Carlotta Gall / The New York Times – 2008-07-21 22:45:27
KABUL, Afghanistan (July 21, 2008) — United States and NATO missile and mortar strikes continued to exact a heavy toll on Afghans over the weekend, killing at least 13 in two attacks that Afghan officials said were mistakes.
In addition, one NATO soldier was killed in the eastern province of Khost on Sunday. Although NATO did not give the nationality of the soldier, United States forces are deployed in Khost.
Nine Afghan police officers were killed Sunday and five others were wounded in western Afghanistan when a convoy of Afghan and United States forces called in airstrikes on the officers, thinking they were militants. A presidential spokesman, Homayun Hamidzada, said the strikes were a case of unintended fire on allies.
At least four people were killed in the other episode when two mortar shells fired by the NATO-led force in Afghanistan went astray.
The United States military said it was beginning an investigation into the first episode, in Farah Province. The Afghan and United States forces were attacked by an unknown group during operations in Ana Darreh district, a statement issued from Bagram Air Base said. The allied forces returned fire and then called in airstrikes on the group attacking them.
The district’s police chief was among those badly wounded, the deputy provincial governor said, according to Agence France-Presse.
In the second episode, a NATO statement said, at least four civilians were accidentally killed and four other civilians wounded in mortar strikes by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force in the eastern province of Paktika. The deaths of an additional three people had not been confirmed, the statement said.
The strikes occurred 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 taken to a NATO base and were evacuated by helicopter to a medical facility, the statement said, adding: “ISAF deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way.”
The latest casualties came as Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, was on his first visit to Afghanistan with a Congressional delegation.
The humanitarian organization Oxfam used the opportunity to warn against the growing human cost of the war. “The security situation in Afghanistan has deteriorated, with an alarming increase in civilian casualties,” it said in a statement on Sunday. “All parties to the conflict must do everything possible to avoid causing harm to civilians.”
The statement also said that unless the next American president “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.”
Oxfam urged the United States government to stop spending aid money on expensive foreign contractors and instead to find more creative and sustainable ways to help Afghans directly, especially in rural development.
Afghan governors and ministers who met Mr. Obama for dinner on Saturday night asked that financing be directed through the government so it could build up its own institutions, said Arsala Jamal, the governor of Khost.
When Mr. Obama asked what Mr. Jamal needed most for his province, the governor said that the entire border region had no paved roads, but needed them.
In Kabul, American lawyers working on the cases of Afghans detained at Bagram Air Base called on the United States government to end the legal “black hole” of hundreds being held by American forces in Afghanistan.
The lawyers, from the International Justice Network, cited the case of Jawed Ahmad, an Afghan journalist detained for about nine months at Bagram with some 650 other Afghans.
None of the detainees have been charged and none are allowed lawyers, according to the lawyers, Tina M. Foster, the director of the organization, and Barbara Olshansky, a human rights professor at Stanford University.
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