Inquiry into Afghan civilian deaths

President Karzai announces probe after scores killed by US-led forces in Helmand.

    Women and children were reportedly among the casualties in the US-led air raid

    "We had different figures at the beginning  but now we have found out that up to now 45 bodies [of civilians]  have been recovered," Dur Ali Shah, the Gereshk district mayor, said.

    "People are digging under the rubble for more bodies. There's a possibility that more people might be under debris."

    Ali Shah, head of a commission of government officials and villages elders appointed to investigate the bombing in the villages of Hyderabad and Mandawa, said 23 other civilians had been wounded.
    Karzai 'very angry'

    The air raids came after Karzai last week criticised both the US-led coalition and Nato forces for a disproportionate use of force and lack of co-ordination with the Afghan government which was leading to civilian deaths.

    "Now the Taliban are intentionally trying to increase civilian casualties
    to increase civilians'
    anger at the government"

    Lotfullah Mashal, Afghan Security Council

    Lotfullah Mashal, spokesman for the Afghan National Security Council, told Al Jazeera on Sunday that Karzai was "very angry" about the casualties.

    "The problem is that the Taliban, the insurgents and the international terrrorists are using civilians as human shields. They attack Afghan National Security forces and international coalition forces from residential areas," he said.

    "Now the Taliban are intentionally trying to increase civilian casualties to increase civilians' anger at the government."

    "It will be a difficult job because in most cases the Taliban, or the enemies of peace and stability, exaggerate the number of casualties because they want to create misunderstanding."

    But Prince Ali Seraj, a politician and a member of the royal family that used to rule Afghanistan, warned that the repeated mistakes by Nato and US forces risk enflaming the whole of southern Afghanistan.

    "They drag people out of their homes in the middle of the night .. they bomb villages and kill innocent people and say, 'Oops, I am sorry, that was a mistake,' and take it as collateral damage. They disrespect the elders," he said.

    "When you have all these things, when you break code after code, I am suprised the people of Afghanistan have not declared a jihad against the coalition."

    US response
    The US military acknowledged in a news release that civilians had been killed in Helmand province, but did not say how many, the Associated Press reported.
    It said the air raids were in response to attacks on a joint Afghan-coalition patrol.

    Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, said: "It appears that ANA [Afghan National Army] and coalition forces fired at clearly identified firing positions."
    "Remains of some people who apparently were civilians were found among insurgent fighters who were killed in firing positions in a trench line."

    He alleged that Taliban fighters had hidden among civilians.

    Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said that some civilians were killed in the fighting in southern Afghanistan but said the death toll was not as high as Afghan officials reported.

    Mashal said Nato and US-led forces, along with the Afghan government, were working to prevent more deaths.

    Figures from the United Nations and an umbrella organisation of Afghan and international aid groups shows that the number of civilians killed by international forces was slightly greater than the number killed by suspected Taliban fighters in the first half of the year.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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