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Karzai scolds US military over Afghan civilian deaths
by Staff Writers
Kabul (AFP) May 29, 2011

President Hamid Karzai on Sunday scolded the US military for "arbitrary and unnecessary" missions that kill Afghan civilians, saying it was his last warning on the issue after 14 died in an air strike.

Citing initial reports that 10 children, two women and two men were killed in a strike in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday, Karzai said such operations amounted to the "murdering of Afghanistan's children and women."

Local authorities said US Marines called in air support after their base in the Nawzad district of Helmand came under attack from small arms fire.

"During the air strike, two civilian houses were targeted which killed 14 civilians and six others were wounded," the provincial administration said in a statement, citing the deaths of five girls, seven boys and two women.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was investigating the allegations.

Karzai's office strongly condemned the killings and described the air strike as a "great mistake."

The president "gives his last warning to the US troops and US officials in this regard," his office said.

"US and NATO troops have been repeatedly told that their arbitrary and unnecessary operations cause the deaths of innocent Afghans and such operations violate human and moral values, but it appears that (we) are not listened to."

A White House spokesman acknowledged Karzai's concerns.

"We work very hard, our military in Afghanistan, to do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.

"President Karzai has expressed on a number of occasions his concerns about civilian casualties. Those are concerns that we share and take very seriously."

Footage and pictures from Helmand showed turbaned men carrying the bodies of children in the aftermath of Saturday's incident.

Aslam, a local elder of Nawzad district, told AFP he "lost 12 relatives while 10 others including children were injured" in the air strike.

He said some shots were fired at ISAF helicopters which flew into the area, adding that the choppers returned after 10 to 20 minutes and fired rockets, killing the "innocent civilians".

Separately the governor of Nuristan on Sunday told AFP that 18 civilians and 20 police were killed by "friendly fire" during US-led air strikes against insurgents in his troubled northeastern province.

Nuristan was the scene of heavy battles last week between the Taliban and Afghan security forces. The police and civilians were targeted Wednesday after they were mistaken for militants, Jamaluddin Badr said.

"The policemen were killed due to friendly fire," Badr said, adding the air strike in the troubled district of Do Ab targeted a location that the officers "had just" taken from the insurgents during fighting.

"Civilians were killed because the Taliban... (who) ran out of ammunition fled into the civilians' houses and then the civilians were mistaken with the Taliban and fired upon," the governor said.

ISAF spokesman Major Tim James said a fact-finding team had been sent to probe the allegations.

"Our initial reporting does not indicate civilian casualties in that air strike," he added.

The issue of civilian casualties is highly sensitive in Afghanistan as Karzai struggles to maintain support to win the hearts and minds of his people against the Taliban.

The United Nations says Afghan civilian deaths in the war increased 15 percent to a record high of 2,777 last year. More than three-quarters of the dead were killed in violence blamed on insurgents.

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