Karzai orders inquiry into civilian deaths

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The Independent Online

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into a US-led coalition air strike that local officials say killed 15 civilians, but the US military says killed only armed Taliban militants.

But just as the president gave the order, accusations surfaced that another coalition airstrike had killed 23 civilians travelling in a wedding convoy.

The issue of civilian casualties is an emotive one in Afghanistan, feeding a common perception international forces do not take enough care when launching air strikes, and undermining support for their continued presence in the country.

Nearly 700 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants.

Karzai ordered the Defence and Interior Ministries and a body that oversees local government to investigate an airstrike in the northeastern province of Nuristan on Friday.

Coalition ground troops called in attack helicopters after militants fired at an outpost, the US military said.

"The helicopter crews coordinated with ground forces to positively identify the militants' vehicles. The attack helicopters then destroyed the two vehicles, killing more than a dozen militants," it said in a statement on Saturday.

But the governor of Nuristan said 15 civilians were killed and seven wounded in the attack in the Waigal district of the province and none of the victims were militants.

"President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly emphasised the (need for) coordination of military operations and has been deeply saddened since learning about this incident," a statement from the presidential palace said on Sunday.

Residents and local officials said 23 people were killed early yesterday, when aircraft bombed a convoy bringing a bride to her new husband's village in the eastern province of Nangarhar.