KABUL (AP) — Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent a government delegation Tuesday to investigate reports that 10 civilians, including eight students, were killed in fighting involving international troops in a tense area of eastern Afghanistan.
Karzai condemned the deaths that reportedly occurred Sunday in a village in the Narang district of Kunar province. If true, the incident would represent the most serious accidental killings of Afghan civilians by Western forces in six months.
Civilian deaths are one of the most sensitive issues for foreign troops in Afghanistan. Although far more civilians are killed by the Taliban, those triggered by foreign troops spark wide resentment and undermine international forces’ attempts to weaken the Taliban.
NATO said Tuesday it was working with its Afghan partners “and looking into the allegations of civilian casualties.” However, it said it had no operations in the Narang district of Kunar province “at the time of the alleged incident.”
Gen. Zaman Mamozai, local border police commander, insisted Tuesday that those killed Sunday were insurgents.
He told The Associated Press by telephone that he received photos from the forces involved in the fighting that show the young victims were armed insurgents planning attacks against international troops. Mamozai said coalition forces found homemade explosives in the house where the incident happened.
“I don’t see civilians in the photos,” he said. “The coalition said our target was insurgents who were planning to sabotage the security of the area. This operation looks like a successful operation. It seems like the men, ages between 25 and 30, were meeting in a room when they were struck.”
The general, however, conceded that Afghan civilians often get killed unintentionally in such operations.
“Sometimes those kind of incidents happen as civilians jump on the roofs and watch the attacks,” he said. “But, it is very difficult for foreign soldiers to know who they are. The same story had happened in the past.”
However, Mohammed Hussain, head of administration of the Chawkay district in the Kunar province, said he was in the village when the fighting took place, and all the victims were civilians. He said seven of the killed were relatives.
Hussain said coalition forces first surrounded the village in the early morning hours on Sunday before they attacked the house in which “only innocent civilians lived.”
“It is clear there was no insurgency and that they were students who were not carrying weapons,” he told the AP. “They were in three rooms. One of the victims was a 17-year-old who was killed together with his three brothers in one of the rooms.”
In other violence in eastern Afghanistan, the spokesman for the police chief in Khost province said Tuesday that five people died in an explosion inside a house where militants were making homemade explosives. Amir Hussain said the blast occurred Monday night near Khost city.
Also, six militants were killed and eight wounded in a clash Monday night with Afghan forces in Old Baghlan town in northern Afghanistan, the local commander, Gen. Murad Ali Khan, said. Two Afghan National Army soldiers and a member of the Afghan National Police also were killed in the fighting.
“After a two-hour battle, the Afghan forces inflicted heavy casualties to the enemy who escaped from the area, leaving behind their dead and weapons,” he said.