Fri, Mar 04, 2011 - Page 5 News List

Karzai condemns coalition’s killings of boys

AP and NY Times News Service, KABUL

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has warned US President Barack Obama that civilian casualties like the nine Afghan boys killed by coalition helicopters this week are a serious problem that needs to be better addressed by the US-led forces.

Karzai and Obama spoke over a secure video conference link on Wednesday, the same day that NATO forces admitted to the accidental killing of the boys, ages 15 and under.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between the NATO force and Karzai, who is visiting London, condemned the deaths, saying the victims were “innocent children who were collecting firewood for their families during this cold winter.”

“The Afghan president said the increase in civilian casualties is a serious difficulty and he emphasized the need to make progress on this,” a statement released yesterday by Karzai’s office said.

“The American president expressed strong regret for recent civilian casualties, and said he has told his military officials to work to decrease civilian casualties.” the statement said.

The nine boys were collecting firewood to heat their homes when they were killed by NATO helicopter gunners who mistook them for insurgents, NATO said.

The boys, who were nine to 15 years old, were attacked on Tuesday in what amounted to one of the war’s worst cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy survived.

The NATO statement said the boys had been misidentified as the attackers of a NATO base earlier in the day, and included an unusual personal apology by the commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.

News of the attack enraged Afghans and led to an anti-US demonstration on Wednesday in the home village of Nanglam.

The only survivor, Hemad, 11, said his mother had told him to go out with other boys to collect firewood because “the weather is very cold now.”

“We were almost done collecting the wood when suddenly we saw the helicopters come,” Hemad said.

“There were two of them. The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket, which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side,” he said.

The tree, Hemad said, saved his life by covering him so that he could not be seen by the helicopters, which, he said, “shot the boys one after another.”

Petraeus pledged to investigate the attack and to take disciplinary action if appropriate.

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