Seven children die in air strike on Afghan compound

MISTAKE: Coalition forces said they had no idea that children were in a building harboring al-Qaeda fighters that they attacked late on Sunday


Tue, Jun 19, 2007 - Page 1

Seven children were killed in an air strike on an Afghan religious school and suspected al-Qaeda safe house, the US-led coalition said yesterday.

The coalition said it did not know the children were in the compound in Paktika Province, which it hit in an air raid late on Sunday after receiving information that al-Qaeda fighters were there.

"We had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building," coalition spokesman Major Chris Belcher said.

The coalition "confirmed the presence of nefarious activity" before getting approval to attack the compound, which included a mosque and a religious school, it said.

"Early reporting has [it] that seven children at the madrassa died as a result of the strike," the coalition statement said, adding that "several militants" were also killed.


"This is another example of al-Qaeda using the protective status of a mosque, as well as innocent civilians, to shield themselves," Belcher said.

"We are truly sorry for the innocent lives lost in this attack," he said.

The UN said it sent a team to investigate the incident in Paktika's Zarghun Shah district, about 180km south of Kabul.

UNICEF child protection chief Noriko Izumi said the world body was concerned about children being caught up in the conflict.

"Children in Afghanistan are very vulnerable," she said.

The air raid followed a suicide bombing in the southern town of Tirin Kot on Friday that police said killed five young boys.

Two schoolgirls were killed in a June 9 drive-by shooting the government blamed on the "enemies of Afghanistan."

Foreign troops have been criticized for killing civilians in their operations, but the vast majority of such deaths have been caused by insurgent attacks.

Up to 380 civilians were killed in insurgency-linked violence in the first four months of this year, UN figures showed.


NATO countries participating in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), which works alongside the coalition, expressed alarm last week at the number of civilian fatalities.

Senior ISAF officials said over the weekend they did all they could to avoid civilian casualties.

"In most cases I have made the decision not to attack lawful targets due to the risk of civilian casualties," one official told reporters on condition of anonymity.

In other incidents linked to the insurgency, the coalition said its soldiers and Afghan forces had "killed several dozen enemy combatants" in a battle on Sunday involving fighter aircraft in the southern province of Helmand.

Two coalition soldiers were wounded, but their nationalities were not disclosed.

The Afghan defense ministry said one of its troops was killed and another wounded in the same area.