KABUL (AP) — President Hamid Karzai sent a government delegation Tuesday to investigate Afghan reports that 10 civilians, including eight students, were killed in fighting involving foreign troops in a tense area of eastern Afghanistan. A NATO official said initial reports indicated nine insurgents were killed.
Karzai condemned the deaths that reportedly occurred Sunday in a village in the Narang district of Kunar province.
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 widespread resentment and undermine international forces’ attempts to weaken the insurgency. The incident is the most serious allegation of accidental killings of civilians by Western forces since early December, when Afghan officials said 12 civilians were killed in an airstrike in Laghman province. NATO denied the charge.
“The president was deeply saddened and angry when he heard this news,” Karzai’s spokesman Waheed Omar said Tuesday.
In a criticism of U.S. and NATO-led troops in Afghanistan, Omar said that the Sunday operation should have been coordinated between international forces and the Afghan national army.
“Our national army is now doing 60 percent of the operations,” Omar said. “When the Afghan national army is doing the operations, the civilian casualties are lower.”
A NATO official said that Sunday’s mission in Kunar was a joint, ground operation involving U.S. and Afghan forces and no aircraft were used. The official sought anonymity so as not to interfere with coalition’s involvement in the Afghan-led investigation of the incident.
The planned mission was against an insurgent network tracked for some time that was believed responsible for homemade explosive attacks on Afghan and international forces, the official said.
Based on weapons and improvised explosive device components found at the scene, the troops involved in the mission confirmed the deaths of nine insurgents, who were all young males, he added.
Gen. Zaman Mamozai, the local border police commander, also said Tuesday that those killed were insurgents.
He told The Associated Press by telephone that he had 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 has happened in the past.”
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 dead were from the same family.
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 a separate development Tuesday, the Afghan intelligence service said four people have been arrested in connection with a suicide bombing that killed the country’s deputy intelligence chief and 22 other people on Sept. 2 while they were leaving a mosque in the eastern province of Laghman.
The intelligence service said in a statement that all four suspects, arrested on Dec. 20, had confessed to organizing the bombing. The bomber approached the crowd on foot and detonated an explosive belt, killing Abdullah Laghmani, who was deputy chief of Afghanistan’s National Directorate for Security and a close ally of Karzai.
Arrested were Abdul Rahman, a Taliban military commander in Laghman, and three members of his insurgent network.
In other violence in eastern Afghanistan, five people died in an explosion Monday night inside a house where militants were making homemade explosives near Khost city, said Amir Hussain, the spokesman for the provincial police chief.
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.