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PAN, February 16, 2010

NATO troops kill more civilians

Locals claimed 15 people perished when NATO helicopters pounded two civilian vehicles in the Washer district.

Zainullah Stanakzai & Bashir Naadem

LASHKARGAH/KANDAHAR CITY: More civilians have been killed in a Taliban stronghold in southern Helmand province during a huge onslaught that NATO and Afghan officials say is aimed at protecting residents and bringing them prosperity.

Elsewhere in the south, five civilians were killed and two others wounded in an air strike -- not part of Operation Moshtarak -- in the Zherai district of Kandahar. A joint Afghan-ISAF patrol that saw the individuals digging along a path believed they were planting a roadside bomb.

US Marine break the door of a house in Marja
A U.S. Marine breaks the door of a house to search for weapons during an operation in the town of Marjah, in Nad Ali district of Helmand province February 16, 2010. (Photo: Reuters)

NATO acknowledged on Tuesday shooting dead three individuals in separate incidents in Helmand and the accidental deaths of five men during an imprecise air strike in Kandahar.

But villagers accused the international troops of killing at least 15 residents in the Washer district of Helmand alone -- the scene of an ongoing joint sweep involving 15,000 Afghan and foreign forces.

"Following a small-arms engagement with insurgents, two wounded Afghan men were brought to a joint Afghan-ISAF patrol," the NATO-led force said, adding the wounded were provided first aid.

The soldiers later called for a medical evacuation mission that brought the men to a nearby ISAF medical facility for further treatment. One of the men subsequently succumbed to their injuries, the ISAF press office said.

However, locals claimed 15 people perished when NATO helicopters pounded two civilian vehicles in the Washer district. Dweller Akhtar Mohammad said the choppers hit cars carrying Taliban fighters, killing all those on board.

Soon afterwards, ISAF helicopters air-dropped soldiers in the area, he revealed. The troops also fired at a civilian vehicle passing the area, according to Akhtar.

Another villager named Abdul Majeed said several people in another van came to the rescue of the victims. Helicopter-borne soldiers fired at them, he disclosed. A total of 15 civilians were reportedly killed in the incidents.

But governor's spokesman Daud Ahmadi rejected the claims of civilian fatalities, saying Taliban vehicles alone were attacked. Four rebel including Mullah Sirajuddin, the Taliban-designated chief for Gulistan district of Farah province, were eliminated.

But rebel spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi denied the fighters suffered any casualties. Instead he alleged 11 civilians were killed in Washer. Ahmadi continued the guerrillas killed 11 foreign soldiers in Marja and Nad Ali towns late Monday.

Although the Taliban mouthpiece gave no further details of the clashes, the Defence Ministry in London announced the deaths of at least two British soldiers in the province.

For its part, ISAF said the investigation suggested the men, believed to be militants, were caught in crossfire between the joint force and Taliban fighters. They were wounded inside a building used by insurgents during the engagement, a NATO statement claimed.

A third civilian was gunned down by ISAF forces in clearing operations. "The unit was approached by an Afghan male. Despite repeated attempts to warn him to stay clear of their position, the man continued to approach the unit's position."

The troops fired two shots at him, but ISAF medical personnel at the scene were unable to save his life. On Monday, the forces shot a man, who ran towards the patrol after a warning shot was fired at him. Although first aid was attempted by medical personnel at the scene, the man died of his wounds.

Following the air raid in Kandahar, a NATO-Afghan patrol determined the victims were not emplacing an improvised explosive device (IED). The troops administered first aid to the wounded before flying them to a NATO medical facility for treatment.

Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi, administrative head of Zherai district, told Pajhwok Afghan News the casualties resulted from a drone attack in the Pashmul neighbourhood late Monday.

Resident Abdul Karim said the men were cleaning a watercourse. One of the dead was a resident of the Shah Joy district of Zabul province. The labourer had come to Zherai for work.

"We regret this tragic accident and offer our sympathies to the families of those killed and injured," said Maj. Gen. Michael Regner, ISAF Joint Command deputy chief of staff for joint operations.

"Our combined forces take every precaution to minimise civilian casualties and we will investigate this incident to determine how this happened," he promised, two days after stray NATO missiles killed a dozen civilians in Helmand.

Category: US-NATO, HR Violations - Views: 7916