US, Afghans in Dispute over Deaths in Raid

March 23rd, 2009 - by admin

Abdul Waheed Wafa & Carlotta Gall / New York Times – 2009-03-23 22:08:57

KABUL, Afghanistan (March 23, 2009) — A predawn raid by US Special Forces that killed five people on Sunday in the northern province of Kunduz has once again produced conflicting accounts from the American military and local Afghan officials as to whether the dead were civilians or militants.

The US military said in a statement that its forces killed five militants and detained four suspects in an operation against a “terrorist network” near Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan. Local officials said that those killed were not militants and that the house raided belonged to the mayor of the town of Imam Sahib.

The military statement also said the operation was coordinated with the local Afghan police, but the provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Razaq Yaqoubi, denied that he was given any information about it. “I was not aware of the operation, nor was the governor, nor was the head of intelligence,” Yaqoubi said.

He said the US unit that conducted the raid had called the police chief of Imam Sahib when it started the operation and specifically told the police not to go to the area.

The US military statement said that when Afghan and coalition forces assaulted the compound they “encountered enemy combatants in the courtyard.”

“One militant was killed, and one surrendered and was detained,” the statement said. “When the forces called out for noncombatants to exit buildings in the compound, they were engaged with small arms fire. Forces returned fire and cleared the buildings on the compound, resulting in four militants killed and three suspected militants detained.”The military found AK-47 rifles in the compound, the statement added. No women or children were present, it said.

Yaqoubi confirmed that the compound belonged to Mayor Abdul Manan. “The targeted house belongs to the mayor of Imam Sahib, and those who were killed are his driver, his cook, his bodyguard and two of the guests,” he said. Yaqoubi did not know who the four detained suspects were and said an investigation was under way.

Manan said he was hunkered down in a room with his wife and children and had no contact with the troops during the raid. He said the helicopter-borne forces had blown open the gates of his compound.

The mayor is a well-known former mujahedeen commander and was a member of Jamiat-e-Islami, the anti-Taliban faction that supported the US intervention in 2001, Yaqoubi said.

German troops, as part of the NATO force, are responsible for security in the northern provinces of Kunduz, Takhar and Badakhshan, but US Special Forces have a base on the border with Tajikistan at Imam Sahib. The area is largely peaceful, although there have been occasional bomb attacks on German forces based in Kunduz.

The dispute over the raid comes after repeated complaints from President Hamid Karzai and provincial Afghan officials about the high civilian toll from, and public furor over, US-led counterterrorism operations, in particular overnight raids on houses and villages.

Special Forces operations were halted in Afghanistan for two weeks in February to allow commanders to impose new safeguards intended to reduce the risk of civilian deaths, officials said. The US military spokesman in Kabul could not be reached for comment on the conflicting accounts of the raid.

Twenty-four foreign soldiers have been killed since March 1, including two on Sunday in southern Afghanistan.A record 2,118 civilians died in the Afghan war last year, a 40 percent increase over 2007, the United Nations has reported. It said US, NATO and Afghan forces killed 829 civilians, or 39 percent of the total.

Also Sunday, a roadside bomb exploded in eastern Khost province, killing one road construction worker and wounding 11 others who were traveling in a vehicle to their job northeast of Khost city, the Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

© 2009 Hearst Communications Inc.

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