Al Jazeera & The Herald Sun & The New York Times – 2013-03-08 23:18:37
ISAF commander describes shooting of children, both under 10, as case of “mistaken identity” during fight with Taliban
NATO Apologizes for Killing Two Afghan Boys
(March 3, 2013) — NATO has said its forces accidentally shot dead two Afghan boys in the latest of a series of reports of civilian deaths at the hands of international troops.
The two boys were shot dead when they were mistaken for fighters during an operation in northwest Uruzgan on Thursday, US General Joseph Dunford, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement on Saturday.
“I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed,” Dunford said.
The shooting in the southern province of Uruzgan could further strain the relationship between ISAF and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has demanded US special forces leave another province over allegations of torture.
“The boys were killed when coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces,” he said, adding that a team of Afghan and ISAF investigators visited the village on Saturday and met local leaders.
Speaking to the media, provincial officials said the Australian soldiers were fighting back against Taliban gunfire when the two boys were shot on Thursday morning.
“The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one,” Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, Uruzgan provincial governor, told the AFP news agency.
The fighters, believed to be Taliban, were shooting at a helicopter carrying Australian forces, said Akhunzada.
The latest civilian casualties by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ISAF, comes less than a week after the government demanded US special forces leave Maidan Wardak province for furthering “instability and insecurity” in the restive province.
A statement issued by the national security council said “it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people”.
The bulk of Australia’s 1,550 troops are based in the southern province, and are focused on training and mentoring Afghan soldiers ahead of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops by the end of next year.
ADF Confirms Death of Two Boys Shot in Afghanistan
KABUL (March 2, 2013) — Defence Force chief General David Hurley has offered his condolences to the families of two boys killed during an incident involving Australian soldiers in Afghanistan.
But General Hurley says it is ”premature” to determine how the incident occurred or who was responsible.
Defence is working with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan authorities to determine the facts surrounding the deaths in northwestern Oruzgan province on Thursday.
Australian soldiers from the Special Operations Task Group were conducting a routine liaison patrol when the incident occurred, General Hurley confirmed in a statement today.
”We deeply regret that the International Security Assistance Forces were responsible for the unintended death of two young Afghan boys during the operation,” he said.
Australian personnel immediately reported the incident to Afghan government officials and military leaders in Oruzgan.
General Hurley said Defence takes the issue of civilian casualties very seriously, and soldiers operate under a strict set of rules to minimise unintended deaths and injuries.
Defence said no more details would be released while the incident was under investigation.
Officials said soldiers in southern Afghanistan shot the children, aged seven and eight, while tending livestock.
The tragic incident happened while Australian soldiers fought back after a Taliban attack in Oruzgan province, provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada told AFP overnight.
”The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one,” Mr Akhundzada said, adding that insurgents had first shot at a helicopter carrying Australian soldiers.
Opposition Leader Tony Abbott said civilian deaths in war were ”absolutely tragic”.
”The horrible feature of war, one of the reasons why we should never lightly wage war, is that almost inevitably awful mistakes like this happen,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard had been briefed on the matter, while parliamentary secretary for Defence David Feeney said he was aware of the allegations of civilian injuries but had no particulars.
When asked about the incident today, Ms Gillard said she wouldn’t be making any comments.
”I’m not going to deal with the details of the incident in question. The CDF (Chief of Defence Force) will be making a statement later today,” she told reporters in Sydney.
The incident is likely to escalate tensions over the conduct of international troops.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO-led forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the campaign against Taliban insurgents, often triggering widespread public anger and harsh criticism from President Hamid Karzai.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) expressed its “deep regret” over the children’s deaths and said it remained committed to minimising civilian casualties.
“I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed,” General Joseph Dunford, commander of ISAF, said in a statement.
“I am committed to ensuring we do the right thing for the families of those we harmed, as well as for the community in which they lived. We take full responsibility for this tragedy.”
ISAF said the troops had opened fire at what they believed were insurgent forces.
It added that a joint Afghan-ISAF team visited the district of Shahidi Hassas in Oruzgan to investigate and meet with local leaders.
Last month, 10 Afghan civilians, including five children, were killed by a NATO airstrike in Kunar province.
Following the attack, Mr Karzai barred Afghan forces from seeking air support from foreign troops in a bid to curb civilian casualties.
Mr Karzai has regularly lashed out at senior ISAF leaders, demanding that civilian deaths must be avoided and saying the killings have worsened relations between his government and the international coalition.
Previous civilian deaths caused by ISAF forces, especially those involving children, have brought protesters onto the streets of Kabul chanting slogans against the presence of international troops in Afghanistan.
Security responsibility for Oruzgan, a restive province where Taliban insurgents have been holding sway, is being handed over to Afghan forces.
The bulk of Australia’s 1550 troops are based in the province, and are focused on training and mentoring Afghan soldiers ahead of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops by the end of next year.
Two Afghan Boys Accidentally Killed by NATO Helicopter
Rod Norland / The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan — Two boys out collecting firewood with their donkeys were killed by weapons fired from a NATO helicopter, Afghan and American military officials announced Saturday.
The new American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., promptly issued an apology and said the killings were an accident.
The victims, Toor Jan, 11, and Andul Wodood, 12, were brothers and had been walking behind their donkeys in the Shahed-e-Hasas district of Oruzgan Province when the helicopter fired on them, according to Afghan officials in the district. The two donkeys were killed as well.
General Dunford said that coalition forces had opened fire on what they thought were insurgent forces, and killed the boys by accident. “I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed,” General Dunford said. “We take full responsibility for this tragedy.”
There was some disagreement about the presence of Taliban in the area and about the details of the episode.
Haji Mohammad Esmail, head of the district shura or council, said the area was “fully under government control,” and that “we havenâ€™t seen any engagement in the area and nor is the area threatened by the Taliban.”
Abdullah Himat, a spokesman for the provincial government in Oruzgan, in southern Afghanistan, said that while the shooting was a mistake, there had been Taliban presence in the area and insurgents had opened fire on the helicopter. Both Australian and American soldiers were involved in the episode, he said.
Fareed Ayal, the spokesman for the provincial police chief, said the helicopter was hunting for Taliban by tracking their radio signals when the killings took place. “There wasnâ€™t any engagement with the Taliban, it was just a mistake that they have killed the two boys at an area where they thought they detected a Taliban radio signal,” he said.
The episode was the second airstrike to kill civilians since General Dunford assumed command in February. In Kunar Province in eastern Afghanistan, up to 11 civilians were killed, including 5 children, when airstrikes were used to destroy two homes.
That attack, which included Afghan forces on the ground, led President Hamid Karzai to forbid Afghan units from asking for airstrikes by coalition air forces. The Afghans have little air ability of their own.
General Dunford met with Mr. Karzai after the episode in Kunar and expressed his “personal condolences” for the civilian deaths.
The coalition last year imposed strict rules limiting the use of airstrikes in areas where civilians are present.
Taimoor Shah contributed reporting from Kandahar, Afghanistan.
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