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NATO air strike kills Afghan family of six: officials

US drone strike kills five militants in Pakistan
Peshawar, Pakistan (AFP) Feb 21, 2011 - A US drone strike in Pakistan's lawless tribal region -- the second such attack in 24 hours on the area near the Afghan border -- killed five militants Monday, security officials said. The strike took place in the mountainous Spalga village, 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of Miranshah, the main town in the North Waziristan tribal district, a hub of Al-Qaeda-linked militants. "It was a US drone strike which targeted a militant compound, killing five rebels," a senior local security official told AFP, adding it destroyed the compound.

Another official confirmed the strike and said US drones fired four missiles. It was not clear exactly how many of the unmanned aircraft were involved but at least five had been in the air since the morning, he said. It was not immediately clear if there were any high-value targets present at the time of the attack in or outside the compound. Late on Sunday a US drone killed at least five militants in neighbouring South Waziristan. There had been a pause in the missile attacks after Pakistani authorities arrested a US gunman, Raymond Davis, for shooting dead two Pakistanis in the eastern city of Lahore on January 27.

Washington insists that Davis, who says he acted in self-defence, is a member of its Islamabad embassy's "administrative and technical staff" who has diplomatic immunity and should be released immediately. But an official from Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) told AFP Monday that Davis was working for the CIA. "He's on contract. He's not a regular CIA guy, but he's working for CIA. That's confirmed," the official said. The claim was backed up by press reports in the US. The unpopular government in Pakistan is under huge pressure from the political opposition and public not to cave in to US demands for the immediate release of Davis.

Missile attacks doubled in the tribal areas last year as the covert campaign was stepped up, with more than 100 drone strikes killing over 670 people in 2010 compared with 45 strikes that killed 420 in 2009, according to an AFP tally. The United States does not confirm drone attacks, but its military and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operating in Afghanistan are the only forces that deploy them in the region. Pakistan tacitly cooperates with the bombing campaign, which US officials say has severely weakened Al-Qaeda's leadership and killed a number of high-value targets, including the former Pakistani Taliban chief Baitullah Mehsud. Despite pressure from Washington, Pakistan has stalled on launching a ground offensive in North Waziristan, saying its troops are overstretched.
by Staff Writers
Jalalabad, Afghanistan (AFP) Feb 21, 2011
Afghan officials Monday accused NATO forces of killing a family of six in an air strike, a day after President Hamid Karzai said 50 innocent people had died in aerial attacks nearby.

The incidents highlight again the sensitive issue of civilian casualties in the war against the Taliban, which is now in its tenth and arguably most critical year amid official warnings of more hard fighting ahead.

A limited withdrawal of foreign forces is expected to start from more stable provinces of Afghanistan from July ahead of a full transition to Afghan control by 2014.

In the latest civilian deaths, a couple and their four children were killed overnight when a misdirected NATO missile hit their mud-built home in Nangarhar province, which borders Pakistan in the east, local officials told AFP.

"The air strike was originally targeting three insurgents who were planting mines on a road. One missile mistakenly hit a house and killed six civilians, all members of the same family," said provincial spokesman Ahmad Zia Abdulzai.

Mohammad Hassen, governor of Khogyani district, confirmed the incident took place on his patch.

A local man, Bilal Karim, told AFP he was a cousin of the man of the family who died, named Patang. He put the death toll higher, at nine, and said the family had been visiting his wife's relatives when the attack happened.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it was investigating the incident, which it accepted had "resulted in Afghan civilians being accidentally killed and wounded".

It said its troops had been targeting the three insurgents planting a bomb but local people later reported that "the roof of their compound collapsed during the engagement, resulting in the casualties."

"We are investigating this tragic incident," said ISAF's Colonel Patrick Hynes. "We will meet with local leaders in the area and ensure they understand what happened."

The strike came the day after Karzai accused NATO troops of killing some 50 civilians in five days of air strikes in Kunar province, which borders Nangarhar province.

Saying he "strongly condemns" the deaths, Karzai pledged to send investigators to the remote district.

ISAF spokesman Brigadier General Josef Blotz Monday stressed that the coalition force was looking into what happened.

But he added that troops had "verified that no apparent civilians or structures were present before firing on targets in a disciplined manner".

"One hundred percent of every helicopter mission is video recorded and the video clearly shows armed individuals reacting to the contact and to our attacks," he told a press conference. "That is what we have got so far."

Eastern Afghanistan is seen as key in the fight against the Taliban because it borders Pakistan's border regions, where the Islamist militants are thought to have rear bases.

A human rights watchdog said earlier this month that 2010 was the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since the US-led invasion of 2001, with more than 2,400 civilians killed.

Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for more than 60 percent of the dead, the report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said, blaming the US-led force for 21 percent of casualties.

Nangarhar province, where the latest incident took place, was also the scene on Saturday of the deadliest attack in Afghanistan since June last year.

A Taliban assault on a bank in Nangarhar's provincial capital Jalalabad, apparently targeting policemen collecting their salaries, left 38 people dead and wounded more than 70 others.

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