Afghan official: 7 civilians, 2 Taliban killed in allied airstrike in southern Afghanistan

Friday, January 1, 2010

More civilian deaths claimed in Afghanistan

KABUL — An airstrike by international forces in the southern Afghan province of Helmand killed seven civilians, two Taliban and wounded another civilian, an Afghan official said Friday.

Dawud Ahmadi, spokesman for the provincial governor, said the attack took place Wednesday after an international patrol came under fire from insurgents and called for air support. NATO said it was aware of the reports and was investigating.

It is the second claim of civilian deaths in allied attacks in a week. The Afghan government says that 10 people were killed, including eight schoolchildren, in a village in eastern Kunar province in a nighttime raid by international forces last weekend.

Claims of civilians being killed in military operations are one of the most emotionally charged issues facing international forces. Although insurgents are responsible for the deaths of far more civilians, those blamed on coalition forces spark the most resentment and undermine the fight against the militants.

The attack in Kunar sparked protests by Afghans who have demanded that foreign troops leave the country.

President Hamid Karzai on Friday met at the presidential palace with representatives from Paktia province who denounced the alleged killing of three civilians there in December. Karzai said he would raise the issue of civilian deaths at the international conference on Afghanistan that is to take place in London on Jan. 28.

On Friday, NATO said joint Afghan-international forces had captured a Taliban member in Kandahar province responsible for movement of weapons and components, and a member of the affiliated Haqqani insurgent group involved with weapons and explosives in Khost province.

Khost is the province where a suicide bomber penetrated a base and killed seven CIA employees Wednesday. A NATO spokesman said there was no immediate information on whether the Haqqani member’s seizure was related to the attack, which raised concerns about the security at foreign bases.

Two former U.S. officials told The Associated Press that the bomber had been invited onto the base and had not been searched. One of the officials, a former senior intelligence employee, said the man was being courted as an informant and that it was the first time he had been brought inside the camp.

NATO also reported that a U.S. service member died Thursday in eastern Afghanistan of injuries not related to battle. It did not give further details.

The British Defense Ministry said that a soldier was killed Thursday in an explosion in Helmand province. The ministry’s statement did not give details but said the soldier was working with a unit trying to lessen the threat of improvised explosive devices.

Such bombs have become a major element of the Taliban’s strategy against foreign forces. Of the 108 British soldiers who died in Afghanistan in 2009, more than 70 percent were killed by IEDs.

Separately, five Afghan civilians — two women, two men and a driver — were killed Friday when their vehicle hit a bomb on a main road in Bala Murghab district in the northern province of Badghis, said Sharafuddin Majidi, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Also Friday, the deputy police chief of Khost province, Youqb Khan, said at least four security guards for a road construction crew were killed when their vehicle was hit by a roadside bomb in the northern part of the province.

Associated Press Writer Jim Heintz in Kabul contributed to this report.

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