Nato troops shot dead an aged relative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai after mistaking him for an insurgent, Afghan officials said yesterday, as anger continues to grow over civilian casualties. Haji Yar Mohammad, a second cousin of the President, was killed during a Nato night raid in the village of Karz in southern Afghanistan.
"While the operation was going on in the area, [he] walked out of his house and he was shot dead by mistake by Isaf forces outside his house," said Ahmed Wali Karzai, the President's brother and one of the most powerful men in southern Afghanistan. He told reporters that the incident was a straightforward mistake. "The forces conducted an operation, he was at his home, he came out and was shot," he said.
District governor Hamdullah Nazek said that two bodyguards and three neighbours were detained by international forces after the killing. "Haji Yar Mohammad was an elderly man predominantly occupied with farming and gardening," he added.
Nato said it was, "aware of conflicting reports about the identities of those involved" and launched an urgent inquiry into Yar Mohammad's death. The Alliance had initially claimed to have "captured a Taliban leader, killed one armed individual and detained several suspected insurgents" after ordering the occupants of a house in Karz to exit the building peacefully.
When they spotted a man "with an AK47 in an adjacent building" they "assessed the male as an immediate threat to the security force, and engaged him".
Despite an ongoing row with Nato's top commander in Afghanistan, US General David Petraeus over heavy civilian casualties, President Karzai and his family sought to play down the incident, saying it weighed no more heavily on him than the death of any innocent Afghan. "The President is sad to hear about another civilian casualty case, and has ordered an investigation," his spokesman said. "He calls on [Nato] to protect civilians rather than killing them."
Some family members already suspect foul play on the part of disgruntled relatives. Since the 1980s, President Karzai's extended family has been riven by a blood feud in which Yar Mohammad's 18-year old son Waheed was murdered 18 months ago.
In any case, the muted response belies the rancorous dispute that has erupted between Mr Karzai and General Petraeus, after two recent Nato air strikes in eastern Afghanistan that allegedly killed a total of 74 civilians.
After General Petraeus suggested that children admitted to hospital suffering burns in the wake of the first incident may have been dunked in boiling water by their parents, Mr Karzai reacted furiously.
Days later, when helicopter gunships opened fire on 10 boys collecting firewood, killing all but one of them, the President very publicly rejected a rare personal apology from General Petraeus, saying it was "not enough". Mr Karzai drove his point home by then accepting a separate apology from US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.
Night raids and air strikes have been running at unprecedented levels since General Petraeus took charge of Nato forces in Afghanistan last year despite being enormously unpopular with the Afghan civilians whose safety Nato claims is its priority.
Although the coalition is responsible for a dwindling proportion of civilian casualties – the UN estimated there were 2,777 last year – those cases where it is responsible draw increasingly furious protests from Afghans weary of foreigners killing their countrymen.
Even though the UN found the Taliban responsible for three-quarters of last year's civilian deaths, and a wave of unusually deadly suicide bombings by the insurgents has killed about 200 people over the past six weeks, it is incidents involving Nato that spark greater outrage.