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Killings of 5 Afghan children inflame tensions

AMIR SHAH, The Associated Press

September 1, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) Ś Foreign and Afghan forces killed five children in two separate incidents Monday, further inflaming tensions in the country over the killings of civilians by troops from the U.S. and other countries.

NATO said it accidentally killed three children in an artillery strike in eastern Afghanistan. It said NATO forces fired the rounds after insurgents attacked its patrol in Gayan district of Paktika province and one of the rounds hit a house, killing three children and injuring seven civilians.

In a separate incident, foreign and Afghan forces killed a man and his two children and during a raid near Kabul, police and witnesses said. Angry men gathered at the victims' house in the Utkheil area east of the capital, where the three bodies were displayed inside a mud-walled compound. The man's wife was wounded in the operation, said Yahya Khan, a cousin.

In another sign of the sensitivity over civilian deaths, NATO issued an unusual statement warning that the Taliban planned to make a false claim about the killings of civilians in the south.

The latest deaths deepened strains between the Afghan government Ś under pressure from an increasingly irate public Ś and foreign forces in the country who are accused of killing dozens of civilians only in the past few weeks.

Afghan officials accuse foreign forces of killing up to 90 civilians during an Aug. 22 operation in the country's west. The U.S. denies the accusation, saying its troops and Afghan commandos killed 25 militants and five civilians in the operation.

The raid in the eastern outskirts of Kabul was conducted by U.S. troops backed by Afghan intelligence agents, said police officer Qubaidullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name. He said the raid killed a man and two of his children and wounded his wife.

The raid left the house with broken windows and bullet holes in the walls. Three other men, all the victims' cousins, were detained during the operation but later released, Khan said.

U.S. coalition spokesman 1st Lt. Nathan Perry said no American troops took part in the operation. NATO-led forces said they had no information about the raid and could not confirm their troops participated either.

Separately, NATO said it was anticipating a Taliban claim of further civilian casualties in the south. In a statement late Sunday, NATO said it had received information from "a reliable source" that insurgents planned to falsely claim international military forces killed up to 70 civilians in Sangin district in southern Helmand province.

The military alliance also said its forces had helped more than 20 wounded civilians who approached two of its bases in Helmand province.

NATO said the civilians were wounded in two separate incidents involving insurgents.

"Insurgents ransacked three compounds and killed three women and an unspecified number of children," in Helmand's Sarevan Qaleh village, NATO said in a statement, quoting one of those wounded. "He then reported that the insurgents had shot him in both kneecaps before fleeing," it said.

The claims could not be independently verified and have not been reported by Afghan authorities.

NATO said it condemns the "use of the plight of innocent civilians for propaganda gain by insurgents."

The warning of a possible civilian casualty claim came hours after the separate U.S.-led coalition command said its troops killed more than 220 insurgents in a week of fighting in the same province. The coalition did not say where the militants were killed.

It was unclear whether the two reports were related.

The issue of civilian deaths is a particularly sensitive topic in Afghanistan following the Aug. 22 bombing of the village of Azizabad in Herat province by the U.S.-led coalition. An Afghan government commission said 90 civilians were killed, a finding backed by a preliminary U.N. report.

The U.S. military has said 25 militants and five civilians were killed, and that it is investigating the incident.

The U.S. has long said insurgents use false civilian death claims as a propaganda tool to undermine support for international forces and the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Claims of civilian deaths can be tricky. Relatives of Afghan victims are given condolence payments by the government and the international military forces, providing an incentive to make false claims.

But Karzai has castigated Western military commanders over civilian deaths resulting from their raids. The Taliban and other insurgents use the deaths as leverage to turn Afghans away from the government, he says.

The top NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, said Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition, Afghan government and United Nations would jointly investigate the Aug. 22 raid.

___

Associated Press reporters Jason Straziuso and Fisnik Abrashi in Kabul contributed to this report.





:: Article nr. 46875 sent on 01-sep-2008 20:20 ECT

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