Afghan villagers say air strike kills 9 civilians

Noor Khan,Associated Press
Thursday 05 November 2009 12:30 GMT

An overnight air strike by international forces killed nine civilians, including at least three children, villagers said today. Afghan authorities said they had no reports of civilian deaths.

The incident illustrates the confusion and blame that regularly result from night raids and air strikes in Afghanistan and threaten US-led efforts to curb the Taliban.

In Kabul, the head of the UN mission warned that Afghanistan cannot count on international support indefinitely unless the government tackles corruption and bad governance.

Residents of Korkhashien village drove the bodies to the governor's office in the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and AP footage and photos showed at least two children among the dead.

Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi confirmed an air strike in Korkhashien, but said eight Taliban militants were killed while hiding out in a compound.

Sgt. Angela Eggman, a US spokeswoman for NATO forces, said she was aware of an incident in the area and it was being investigated.

Villager Abdul Rashin said the people were killed while harvesting corn in their fields.

The convoy of vans and station wagons from Korkhashien drove from the governor's office to a central market, where the villagers shouted blame at both President Hamid Karzai and his international allies.

"Death to Karzai! Death to the foreigners!" they yelled as passers-by looked through the car windows at the blanket-covered corpses. The villagers had propped open the rear doors of the cars to show off the bodies, and young boy on a bicycle stopped to peer in.

Though NATO forces have retooled their mission to focus on protecting the population — and have been issued new rules for air strikes aimed at reducing civilian casualties — it is often difficult to distinguish militants from civilians in areas where the Taliban live among the people and often grew up in the villages they hide out in.

In eastern Khost province, several hundred people demonstrated today against an overnight raid that killed a resident of Baramkhil village. Walishah Hamat, head of the Mandozayi district government, said the dead man was innocent.

NATO forces said the man was a militant who was killed when Afghan and international forces were pursuing an insurgent leader who had been recruiting foreign fighters to the area.

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