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By NAHAL TOOSI, Associated Press Writer

KABUL, Afghanistan – NATO forces on Saturday fired on a vehicle that wouldn’t stop at a checkpoint in Afghanistan’s volatile south, killing four civilians and wounding three others, the alliance said.

Civilian casualties has been a sore point between Afghanistan’s government and international forces that operate here. (more…)

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NATO forces killed four civilians and wounded three others when they fired at a vehicle that did not stop at a checkpoint in Afghanistan’s volatile south, the alliance said.

Civilian casualties are a sore point between Afghanistan’s government and international forces operating here. President Hamid Karzai has implored NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops to avoid killing civilians because it undermines support for his already weak central government. (more…)

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U.S. and NATO military officials in Afghanistan have launched investigations into three separate U.S.-led airstrikes that Afghan officials say killed at least 78 civilians this month.

The investigations come during what U.N. and Afghan officials say is one of the deadliest years for civilians since the war began. In the first six months of this year, the number of civilians killed in fighting has increased by nearly 40 percent over the same period last year, according to U.N. data.

“We have seen a number of occurrences lately where a large number of civilians have been killed. It would be fair to say that this year so far there has been an increase in the number of civilians killed by all sides,” said Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan.

More than half of those killed in the three recent U.S.-led airstrikes — which occurred in a three-week span in three provinces in eastern and western Afghanistan — were women and children, according to Afghan and Western officials. In one case, about 47 women and children in a wedding party were killed.

The death toll from Western airstrikes has renewed political furor over foreign military operations in Afghanistan as the Taliban insurgency is intensifying.

NATO protocols require high-level approval for airstrikes when civilians are known to be in or near Taliban targets. Military officials say fighters with the insurgent group commonly take up positions in civilians’ homes, mosques or schools — increasing the chances of civilian casualties. Those casualties, in turn, help the Taliban win the sympathies of locals and draw new recruits.

The first airstrike under investigation took place July 4 in Zoomia Bala village in the eastern province of Nurestan. Two U.S. helicopters unleashed missiles and gunfire on a pair of vehicles fleeing an area near a NATO and Afghan military base shortly before an attack, according to a confidential cable about the incident sent by the E.U. delegation in Kabul to its member states. At least 16 civilians were killed, according to Afghan media reports and interviews conducted with the E.U. delegation. Nurestan’s governor, Tamim Nuristani, said at the time that 22 civilians were killed. He was fired by Karzai days after making the claim.

The second airstrike, which took place the morning of July 6 in the eastern province of Nangahar, claimed the lives of members of the wedding party, according to Afghan and Western officials. A Western official in Afghanistan familiar with details of the aerial assault, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the inquiry is ongoing, said U.S. forces dropped bombs on the party as it traveled through a wide, open area, where presumably it would have been easier for the air attack coordinator or the pilot to determine whether those in the party were civilians, not Taliban fighters.

Nader Nadery, a commissioner with the government-funded Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, agreed, saying that even though the commission’s investigators had found that a few men may have been traveling with the wedding party, the presence of women and children should have been clear.

“In large Afghan weddings, women typically wear big green chadors or big red chadors. Their clothes are shiny for the celebration,” Nadery said.

The third incident occurred Sunday in the western province of Farah. At least eight Afghan police officers were killed in the district of Ana Darreh when a convoy of U.S. and Afghan soldiers mistakenly called in an airstrike on the officers’ location, according to a statement issued by U.S. military officials immediately after the attack.

Last week, Karzai visited the site of the wedding-party bombing and spoke with grieving relatives of those killed. A spokesman for Karzai said this week that the Afghan president continues to talk with NATO officials about progress on the investigation and efforts to minimize civilian casualties from airstrikes.

“We are working very closely with our international friends. We would like the incidences of civilian casualties brought to an absolute minimum,” said the spokesman, Humayun Hamidzada.

An estimated 698 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, compared with 430 during the same period last year, the United Nations says. Of those, 255 were killed by NATO forces.

According to a count in a forthcoming report from Human Rights Watch, airstrikes alone have been responsible for 119 civilian deaths this year.

Civilian casualties from airstrikes are a particularly prevalent issue in a war where low NATO troop numbers on the ground combine with difficult and in some areas impassable terrain to create a heavy dependency on air power. Western and Afghan officials agree that the growing reliance on air cover has in some cases served to undermine the public image of the NATO mission in Afghanistan.

“It’s an easy tool for the hands of the Taliban. Whenever there’s an airstrike, the first person who calls and gives exaggerated numbers and information is the Taliban spokesman,” Nadery said. “That certainly feeds into the negative feelings that Afghans have about foreign forces operating here.”

Mark Laity, a spokesman for NATO in Afghanistan, said the coalition is working hard to adhere to the strict protocols on airstrikes. He said Taliban propaganda on civilian casualties has been effective.

“If we don’t drop a bomb, they win because they’re protected and can remain in the area. If we do drop a bomb and there are civilian casualties, then they win because they can say that we are here to rape, pillage and plunder,” Laity said. (more…)

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By The New York Times

Dawn was breaking over Afghanistan one day this month as Air Force surveillance planes locked in on a top-ranking insurgent commander as he traveled in secret around Kandahar, the spiritual home of the

But as attack aircraft were summoned overhead to strike, according to a recounting of the mission by Air Force commanders, the Taliban leader entered a building. Intelligence specialists scrambled to determine whether civilians were inside. Weapons experts calculated what bomb could destroy the structure with the least damage. (more…)

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TONY EASTLEY: Civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces is a hugely sensitive issue in Afghanistan.

In the past President Hamid Karzai has said no civilian casualty is acceptable.

Overnight at least 13 Afghan police and civilians were killed in two incidents involving international forces. In one clash both sides mistook the other for Taliban militants.

Alison Caldwell reports. (more…)

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By the Associated PressU.S.-led troops and Afghan forces killed nine Afghan police Sunday, calling in airstrikes and fighting on the ground for four hours after both sides mistook the other for militants, Afghan officials said.

In a separate incident, NATO said it accidentally killed at least four Afghan civilians Saturday night. A NATO soldier also was killed in the east. (more…)

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By Alastair Leithead
BBC News, Kabul

Dozens of Afghan civilians have been killed during aerial bombing by US forces in the western province of Herat, tribal elders say.

They said an important tribal elder was among the dead in Shindand district.

A Nato spokesman said a number of insurgents had been killed and there were no reports of civilian casualties.

Earlier, US forces admitted killing eight civilians in a neighbouring province – the latest in a series of bombing incidents involving civilians. (more…)

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