Mon, Jul 09, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Reports of Afghan casualties flourish

DENIED Major John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO, said that the alliance had ordered airstrikes in Farah and Kunar, but also that the stories of civilian deaths do not match up

AGENCIES, KABUL AND KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN

Amid a continuing flurry of reports about civilian casualties in Afghanistan, the leader of a tribal council in Farah Province on Saturday said that 108 noncombatants were killed on Friday in a NATO airstrike.

The report was denied by a NATO spokesman and could not immediately be confirmed from other sources.

"NATO soldiers, along with the Afghan National Army and people from the national police, came to Shewan Village and told us they needed to search three or four houses," the tribal chief, Hajji Khudai Rahm, said in a telephone interview. "As we talked, a firefight began and 20 houses were destroyed when the planes dropped bombs."

"We counted 108 bodies, including women and children. Fourteen local policemen were among the dead. Right now, things are calm, but people are digging through the rubble to find more bodies," he said

Meanwhile, residents and officials in Kunar Province said 36 civilians had been killed in recent airstrikes, 11 of them on Thursday during a bombardment, and 25 more on Friday as they attended a funeral for the deceased.

Hajji Shalizai Didar, the governor of Kunar, said on Saturday via telephone that he had heard the reports about the deaths, in Watapoor District, but had been unable to confirm them because the fighting continued.

Major John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO, said that the alliance had ordered airstrikes in both Farah and Kunar during the times in question. "We're aware of the reports of civilian casualties but none of it tracks with the information we have, which is pretty extensive," he said. "In both cases, we had good reconnaissance before and after."

Meanwhile, Taliban rebels gunned down three pro-government officials and one of their sons in Afghanistan, authorities said Sunday, also reporting a dozen more insurgents were killed in new clashes.

The head of the religious council of southern Uruzgan province, Mawlana Ahmadzada, was killed by machinegun fire hours after he was dragged from his home late Saturday in the provincial capital.

He was captured with 10 bodyguards who were freed, provincial police commander Mohammad Qasim said.

A self-claimed Taliban commander, Mullah Ubaydullah Haqyar, said the cleric was killed for his links to the US-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

"We killed him. He was working for the government," the purported commander said by telephone from an unknown location.

Ahmadzada had also provided security forces to assist the NATO-led force, officials said.

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