Afghanistan orders investigation into U.S. attack

Afghanistan orders investigation into U.S. attack

July 6, 2008

Afghanistan’s president has ordered an investigation into allegations that missiles from U.S. helicopters struck civilians, though the Ministry of Defense said Sunday that the attack killed or wounded 20 militants.

President Hamid Karzai ordered the defense and interior ministries, as well as local government officials, to investigate Friday’s attack in eastern Afghanistan.

The issue of civilians casualties has caused friction between the Afghan government and U.S. and NATO troops in the past, and it has weakened the standing of the Western-backed Karzai in the eyes of the population.

Karzai has repeatedly called for better coordination between Afghan and foreign troops in pursuing militants through populated areas, and he has pleaded for international troops to cut down on civilian casualties. Deaths of ordinary Afghans caused a huge outcry in summer of 2007, but there have been fewer accusations of such killings in recent months.

Karzai’s statement quoted allegations from Gov. Tamin Nuristani, the governor of Nuristan province, as saying that 15 civilians were killed and seven wounded.

However, the Ministry of Defense on Sunday said up to 20 militants were killed and wounded in an air attack in Kunar province Friday. The area of the attack is on the border between Kunar and Nuristan, and both statements referred to the same incident.

The U.S.-led coalition insists those killed were militants who had previously attacked a NATO base with mortars. Despite Nuristani’s claims, a coalition statement said there are “no official reports of non-combatant injuries or casualties.”

Meanwhile, the chief government official in the Deh Bala district of Nangarhar province said villagers reported that between 30 and 35 people walking in a group toward a wedding were killed in a bombing early Sunday. Up to 10 others were wounded, he said.

Haji Amishah Gul said the group was hit while resting in the shadow of a mountain. Those killed included men, women and children, he said.

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