Afghan air raid kills 12 civilians, 20 Taliban

Report
from Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
Published on 22 Jun 2007
By Ismail Sameem

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, June 22 (Reuters) - An air strike by foreign-led forces killed 25 civilians, including 12 members of a family, and 20 Taliban fighters in Afghanistan's southern Helmand province, the provincial police chief said on Friday.

Hussien Andiwal said the raid took place on Thursday night as part of an operation against Taliban fighters by foreign forces and Afghan troops.

A spokesman for the U.S. military said he had no immediate comment on the incident, but NATO -- which runs a separate force under overall U.S. command -- said it carried out the air strike after alliance forces came under attack by insurgents.

"We are concerned about reports that some civilians may have lost their lives during this attack," said Lieutenant-Colonel Mike Smith, a NATO spokesman.

"However, it must be noted that it was insurgents who initiated this attack, and in choosing to conduct such attacks in this location and at the time, the risk to civilians was probably deliberate."

The strike occurred in Girishk district of Helmand, a long-time bastion for the Taliban and the leading drug producing province of Afghanistan, the world's major heroin supplier.

"Nine women and three children have been killed in one family in the bombardment," Andiwal told Reuters.

He later said 25 civilians had been killed in the raid as several houses in another part of the small village were also hit.

The incident comes amid rising violence in Afghanistan over the past 17 months, the bloodiest period since the overthrow of the Taliban government in 2001.

More than 230 civilians have been killed this year alone during operations by foreign and Afghan forces, according to an umbrella body for aid groups in Afghanistan.

Civilian deaths are a sensitive issue for President Hamid Karzai's government and the foreign forces hunting the Taliban and their allies.

A series of protests demanding the expulsion of U.S. forces and the resignation of Karzai have been held in recent months over civilian casualties caused by foreign forces.

Faced with growing Afghan frustration over rampant corruption and lack of development, Karzai has repeatedly urged foreign forces to coordinate anti-militant operations with his government and has warned about civilian deaths.

NATO said its counter attack on Thursday -- involving small arms fire and backed by air support -- killed most of the 30 insurgents who had occupied a compound. (Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin)

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