Infants dead in NATO attack
Sat Jun 23 2007
Winnepeg Free Press
KABUL -- NATO accused Taliban fighters Friday of provoking an air strike that reportedly killed 25 innocents, including three infants and nine women, while a Dutch general charged that insurgents executed villagers during another battle.
The allegations come amid a new surge of criticism over civilian deaths during attacks by foreign forces.
President Hamid Karzai and others have long complained that civilian losses in NATO or U.S.-led operations are undermining the effort to stabilize Afghanistan and prevent a Taliban comeback. The deaths are "difficult for us to accept or understand," Karzai said Thursday.
NATO commanders are adamant that the militants -- not foreign forces -- deserve most of the blame for the toll among civilians.
An alliance statement said NATO aircraft struck after Taliban fighters attacked troops from NATO's International Security Assistance Force about 15 kilometres northeast of the town of Gereshk.
"A compound was assessed to have been occupied by up to 30 insurgent fighters, most of whom were killed in the engagement," the statement said.
Lt.-Col. Mike Smith, a NATO spokesman, expressed concern about Afghan police reports that civilians also died in the air strike. But he said insurgents chose the time and place for their attack, so "the risk to civilians was probably deliberate."
"It is this irresponsible action that may have led to casualties," he said.
The air strike killed 20 militants, but it also wiped out two civilian families totalling 25 people, including nine women, three babies and a mullah, provincial police Chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal said.
The police chief said villagers loaded the bodies onto tractor trailers to take them to Helmand's capital, Lashkar Gah, to prove they were innocent victims. But police turned them back, fearing unrest in town, and the bodies were buried in graves near their village, Andiwal said.
Andiwal also said NATO did not consult with Afghan authorities before the air strike, a demand repeatedly made by Karzai.
"They never talked with us, no consultation, no discussion," Andiwal said.
The casualties in Gereshk would bring the number of civilians killed in NATO or U.S.-led military operations this year to 177, according to an AP tally of figures provided by Afghan officials and witnesses. Militant attacks, including suicide bombings, have killed 169 civilians.
Read commentary at Further Adventures of Indigo Red.