AFP, September 2, 2010

NATO air strike kills 10 civilians: Afghan president

Officials said earlier that 10 election campaigners had been killed in an air strike by international forces

KABUL — Ten Afghan civilians were killed Thursday in a NATO air strike on three vehicles carrying election campaign workers in northern Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai said in a statement.

Karzai strongly condemned the incident in his statement, confirming earlier reports of an air strike that killed election workers in Takhar province.

"Three vehicles carrying the members of a parliamentary election candidate's team was targeted by NATO aircraft twice while travelling towards the Kiwan area in Rustaq district of Takhar province this morning, during which 10 campaign members were martyred (killed) and two others injured," the statement from the presidential palace said.

"In the war on terror, pro-democracy people should be distinguished from those who fight against democracy," the statement quoted Karzai as saying."President Karzai once again emphasised that air strikes over Afghan villages will achieve nothing in the war on terrorism but the killing of Afghan civilians," it said.

Officials said earlier that 10 election campaigners had been killed in an air strike by international forces in the relatively peaceful north of the country.

In an initial reaction to reports of the strike, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the international counter-insurgency mission in Afghanistan, said it was "aware of the allegations".

"We're investigating to find out if it's true or not," an ISAF spokesman said.

Major General David Garza, deputy chief of staff for joint operations at ISAF's joint command, said in a later statement that the operation had targeted vehicles carrying a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU).

The IMU is based in Uzebkistan's Ferghana Valley and is known to be affiliated with Al-Qaeda."These vehicles were nowhere near a populated area and we're confident this strike hit only the targeted vehicle after days of tracking the occupants' activity," Garza said.

The IMU member was believed to be the "deputy shadow governor" of Takhar, the ISAF statement said, referring to the parallel administration that the Taliban has set up in many areas of Afghanistan.Two other people, including a candidate in the September 18 parliamentary elections, were injured in the alleged air raid in Rustaq district, Takhar provincial government spokesman Faiz Mohammad Tawhedi told AFP.

The men were travelling in a "caravan" of vehicles when they were attacked by "aircraft and helicopter gunships," he said.

The election campaigners were working for parliamentary candidate Abdul Wahed Khurasani, who had survived the bombing with injuries, he said.NATO has around 150,000 troops in Afghanistan to fight a Taliban-led insurgency.

The international force has been responsible for scores of civilian deaths, many of them killed during air raids aimed against insurgents.A recent UN report said about 20 percent of the more than 1,300 civilians killed in the first half of the year lost their lives in NATO and other pro-government troops' actions, with most of the rest killed by militants.

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