Afghan investigators concur with the governor of a volatile eastern province who said NATO-led forces inadvertently killed more than 60 civilians in raids a week ago, an Afghan member of parliament said on Friday.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO-led and Afghan forces hunting insurgents have become a great source of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers, and there have been at least three such incidents in the past week.
On Sunday, the governor of Kunar province said 64 civilians had been killed during four days of operations by NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan troops in a remote area near the border with Pakistan.
President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the raids and put the toll at more than 50 dead. He ordered an immediate investigation.
Senior ISAF officials disputed the accounts of Afghan officials, saying weapons systems surveillance from one engagement lasting more than five hours indicated only insurgents had been killed, but agreed to a joint investigation.
Shahzada Shahid, a lawmaker from Kunar and member of the 14-member joint investigation team, said 62 civilians had been killed in the raids in Ghazi Abad district.
He said 30 children were among the dead. The head of the assessment team, Karzai’s adviser Shahzada Masood, would report back to the president, Shahid said.
ISAF said the investigation team had yet to fully brief force leaders.
“Our preliminary findings have not indicated any additional information that would cause us to change our original assessment,” an ISAF spokesman in Kabul said.
GROWING ANGER Rules governing air strikes and night raids have been tightened significantly by NATO-led forces in the past two years, leading to a drop in civilian casualties caused by their troops.
However, operations still do go wrong.
On Thursday, ISAF said it was investigating a separate incident in which an unspecified number of civilian casualties may have been caused during an “air to ground engagement” in Kapisa, another remote eastern province.
However, district official Mohammad Omari said an ISAF helicopter had fired on three men and two children on a hunting trip, killing them all. There was no other verification.
ISAF is also investigating an incident in eastern Nangarhar province, where Afghan officials said six civilians, including at least two children, were killed.
On Wednesday, Reuters reported that a U.S. soldier faces a court martial on charges that he shot and killed an Afghan civilian with a pistol in another eastern village last September.
That case underscored a growing sense of anger among many Afghans who have difficulty obtaining justice or compensation after members of their families are killed.
A United Nations report late last year found that civilian casualties in Afghanistan rose 20% in the first 10 months of 2010 compared with the same period in 2009, with more than three-quarters killed or wounded by insurgents.
It found there were 6,215 civilian casualties in the period, including 2,412 deaths. Those caused by foreign and Afghan troops accounted for 12% of the total, an 18% drop.