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Afghans say will open graves to show civilian deaths

Sharafuddin Sharafiyaar, Reuters North American News Service

afghan-gravepics.jpg

Sep 09, 2008 11:18 EST

AZIZABAD, Afghanistan Sept 9 (Reuters) - Relatives of Afghans killed in a U.S.-led coalition raid in western Herat province offered on Tuesday to dig up graves to support claims of large-scale civilian deaths.

But they said that U.S.-led forces must leave Afghanistan "in shame" if it was proven that an American account of the Aug. 22 air strike in Shindand district that most of the victims were Taliban fighters was wrong.

The incident has outraged Afghans and opened a rift between coalition forces on the one hand and the Afghan government and the U.N. on the other, which both say that more than 90 civilians were killed.

The U.S. military, which earlier disputed that figure, said it would re-investigate after new evidence had emerged about civilian casualties in the raid on Azizabad village.

"We are ready to dig out every grave to show the Americans that civilians, including women and children, were killed in the air strikes," village elder Gul Ahmad Khan, who said he lost three children in the strike, told Reuters.

But Khan, who represented the village during President Hamid Karzai's visit last week to commiserate with the families, said the U.S. must first agree it would pull out all its forces from the country if it was proved that civilians died in the strike.

"We will welcome them if they visit our bombed village to investigate. But we should have a deal first, if the Americans are proved wrong, then they should leave Afghanistan in shame," he said.

On Tuesday, two more civilians died when a bomb fired by a NATO aircraft missed its target by more than 2.5 km (1.5 mile) in the eastern province of Khost, killing two civilians and wounding 10, the alliance said.

It said it was investigating how the weapon, aimed at an insurgent rocket position, had malfunctioned causing civilian casualties.

Afghans have been angered by a spike in civilian deaths in recent months and the country's Western-backed government has sought a review of foreign combat operations.

SHINDAND

The U.S. military earlier said the Shindand raid had targeted a Taliban commander who was among 30 to 35 militants killed in the strike. It said five to seven civilians also died.

Villagers said false intelligence about the presence of Taliban in the village had been fed to coalition forces and have urged the Afghan government to punish those responsible.

A group of women, wailing outside their ruined homes, demanded that the Afghan government hand over a man named Nadir to them. They said he had misled foreign forces.

"I don't want anything from the Americans, even if they give the whole of Afghanistan I don't want it," screamed Mah Pari. "We want the government to hand us over Nadir alive," she said.

Pari said she lost four members of her family when bombs struck a house where people had gathered for a charity dinner to mark the death of a villager six months ago.

Wali Mohammad, another villager, said many died while fleeing the bombing. "They were shot dead from the air," he said, adding his wife lost her sight in the strike.

Villagers showed a Reuters journalist a grainy cellular telephone video of a row of bodies lying in shrouds and blankets on the floor of the village mosque. It was not clear from the video how many bodies were there.

Another video showed bodies being taken to the graveyard.

At least 60 of the dead were women and children, the Afghan government says.

"Under any shape it occurred, this event must be regarded as the biggest violation by NATO forces in Afghanistan," state-controlled Afghan daily Anis said in an editorial.

The U.S. military, which has proposed a review of the operation, said the air strike was called in after Afghan army and U.S.-led coalition forces came under intense fire during an offensive in the Shindand area.

VViolence in Afghanistan this year is at its highest level since the 2001 invasion by U.S.-led coalition forces, with more than 2,500 people killed. (Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin and Hamid Shalizi; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; Editing by Sami Aboudi)





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