Afghan President Hamid Karzai sent a government delegation yesterday 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 on 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 yesterday 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.”
General Zaman Mamozai, local border police commander, said yesterday that those killed Sunday were insurgents.
He said 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.”
Meanwhile, UN figures showed that the war in Afghanistan was becoming deadlier, killing 10 percent more civilians during the first 10 months of this year compared with the previous period last year.
UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan data put civilian deaths in the first 10 months of this year at 2,038, up from 1,838 for the same period last year — an increase of 10.8 percent.
The figures show that the vast majority, or 1,404 civilians, were killed by insurgents, who are fighting for the overthrow of the Karzai government and to eject Western troops.