The Telegraph & Reuters – 2011-05-29 22:25:41
NATO Air Strike ‘Kills 14 Afghan Women and Children’
Ben Farmer / The Telegraph
VIDEO: A bungled air strike by NATO helicopters killed 14 women and children in Helmand province, local officials have said
KABUL (May 29, 2011) — The allegation that helicopters killed five girls, seven boys and two women when they mistakenly fired on two houses full of civilians prompted Hamid Karzai to issue “a final warning” to NATO forces over their tactics.
The coalition immediately sent a fact-finding team of senior officers and Afghan officials to the site of the incident in Naw Zad district to investigate the claim. A spokesman for the Helmand governor said the helicopter attack on Saturday was called in by United States Marines when their base came under small arms fire.
A local elder called Aslam told reporters shots were fired at NATO helicopters, which are believed to have been American, when they flew into the area. They returned after 10 to 20 minutes and fired rockets, killing 12 of his relatives, he said.
A group of villagers reportedly travelled to Helmand’s capital, Lashkar Gah, where they paraded the dead bodies of eight children, some as young as two-years-old, in front of local journalists outside the governor’s residence.
The fact-finding team is led by a NATO general and will interview local residents, marines and pilots and will review cockpit footage if necessary, according to a military source. Hamid Karzai has repeatedly demanded NATO change tactics to end air strikes and night raids, which have caused anger against coalition forces in southern Afghanistan.
The issue causes intense friction between Mr Karzai and NATO commanders who accuse him of stirring up resentment as a populist ploy. Mr Karzai said: “We have told the Americans and NATO forces several times that uncoordinated operations will result in the killing of innocent civilians and that such operations are inhumane, but still no one has listened.”
A separate investigation team was sent to Do Ab district of Nuristan, where the governor accused the coalition of killing 18 civilians and 20 police during air strikes during heavy clashes last week.
Up to several hundred militants threatened to overrun the mountainous district last week until Afghan and NATO forces repelled them with an aerial bombardment and air assault by commandos. Police officers had just retaken a location during the fighting when it was hit by “friendly fire”, the governor said.
“Civilians were killed because the Taliban … (who) ran out of ammunition fled into the civilians’ houses and then the civilians were mistaken with the Taliban and fired upon,” he added.
NATO Air Strike Kills Civilians,
Afghans Say Most Children
LASHKAR GAH, Afghanistan (May 29, 2011) — An air strike by NATO-led troops in southern Afghanistan killed at least nine civilians, NATO and Afghan officials said on Sunday, and many of the victims were children. It was one of the deadliest foreign assaults on civilians in Afghanistan in months.
The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign forces, usually during air strikes or night-time raids, is a major source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers. It has complicated efforts to win support from ordinary Afghans for an increasingly unpopular war.
The commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in southwestern Afghanistan apologized for the deaths of nine civilians, saying troops had unwittingly targeted a home because insurgents were using it as a base.
“Unfortunately, the compound the insurgents purposefully occupied was later discovered to house innocent civilians,” Major General John Toolan said in a statement. “While I know there is no price on human life we will ensure that we make amends with the families in accordance with Afghan culture,” he added.
The governor of Helmand province, where the air strike was called in, said the bomb killed 14 civilians, two of them women and the remainder children. Bereaved relatives brought the bodies of young children to the provincial capital to protest. ISAF did not give the ages of the civilians it said died.
Karzai condemned the latest case of civilian casualties from NATO air strikes, saying he had warned US and NATO troops their “arbitrary and unnecessary operations” were killing innocent people “every day.” He said in a statement the incident in violent Helmand province in the south was “a big mistake.” “It shows that attention is not being paid,” he said.
The White House shares Karzai’s concerns over civilian casualties, and takes them very seriously, US President Barack Obama’s spokesman said after the air strike.
“WHY WAS MY HOUSE BOMBED?”
Both the Helmand governor and Toolan said coalition troops had come under fire — and Toolan said one US Marine was killed — before they ordered the bombing of a compound where the insurgents had taken shelter. The Helmand governor said in a statement that seven boys and five girls were among the dead and three other children wounded.
Bereaved male relatives cradled the bodies of several young children wrapped in bloody sheets and placed side to side, and brought them in the back of a truck to the provincial capital, television pictures showed.
“My house was bombarded in the middle of the night and my children were killed … the Taliban were far away from my home, why was my house bombed?” relative Noor Agha told Reuters.
The NATO air strike comes at a time of high anti-Western sentiment in Afghanistan and days after deadly protests by thousands of people against a night raid by NATO troops in which four people, including two women, were killed. Twelve people were killed during those violent protests and clashes with police in Takhar and more than 80 wounded.
On Saturday, Karzai ordered the Defense Ministry to take control of night raids, saying Afghan troops should be carrying out the sensitive operations themselves. Critics of the raids, carried out on houses suspected of harboring insurgents, say they often lead to civilian casualties as ordinary people rush to defend their homes.
Under a plan agreed by NATO leaders, foreign troops will begin handing over security responsibilities to Afghan troops from July, with a plan to withdraw all combat troops from Afghanistan by the end of 2014. Despite the presence of some 150,000 foreign troops, violence in Afghanistan last year reached its deadliest phase since US-backed Afghan forces toppled the Taliban in 2001.
The Taliban this month announced the start of their “spring offensive,” vowing to attack foreign and Afghan troops and government officials.
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