- The Washington Times - Monday, September 1, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan | An Afghan army commander said that U.S. and Afghan troops were fired on first from a village where a government investigative commission says scores of civilians were killed by air strikes, according to a report released Sunday.

The chief of staff for the army’s Herat corps told the head of the government’s investigative commission that shots were fired early Aug. 22 from Azizabad at U.S. and Afghan troops. The troops had gone to the village on a raid.

But the report, released by the office of President Hamid Karzai, did not specify who fired the shots.

“When the ANA [Afghan army] and coalition troops got close to the village, firing started after the ANA unit stopped, and the coalition forces conducted the operation in the village,” the report said.

There were no “foreign or internal Taliban” among the victims, the report said.

The commission found that 15 men, 15 women and 60 children were killed in the U.S. air strikes. That finding was backed by a preliminary U.N. report. The commission said eight houses were destroyed and seven damaged.

The U.S.-led coalition maintains that 25 militants and five civilians died. The U.S. says it is investigating.

The top NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, told the Associated Press on Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition, Afghan government and United Nations would launch a probe into the raid.

A U.N. spokesman, Dan McNorton, said details of the investigation need to be worked out.

The statement from Mr. Karzai’s office on Sunday did not mention any joint investigation, and no Afghan government officials have confirmed that the government would participate.

The U.N. mission said it had delivered aid to about 900 people affected by what it called “the recent tragedy” in Azizabad. It delivered three truckloads of food, cooking utensils, shelter materials and medicines to 150 families.

“I have asked all U.N. agencies working in Afghanistan to step up support to the local authorities as they work to help the survivors,” said the U.N. chief in Afghanistan, Kai Eide.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the head of Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission, has said that a villager named Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack, had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport.

Villagers and officials have said the operation was based on faulty information provided by Mr. Reza’s rival, Nader Tawakal. Attempts to locate Mr. Tawakal have failed. Aziz Ahmad Nadem, a member of parliament from Herat, has told the AP that Mr. Tawakal is now being protected by the U.S. military.

The report released Sunday did not appear to be the commission’s final findings, but rather the thoughts of the chief of the delegation, Neyamatullah Shahrani, Afghanistan’s minister of religious affairs.

The Afghan army chief of staff in Herat told the delegation that about 45 commandos - the Afghan army’s most elite soldiers - went with the U.S. forces. But he said the Afghan units did not enter the village.

Evidence from all sides regarding the raid has been scant, with no conclusive photos or video emerging to shed light on what happened.

Mr. Karzai has castigated Western military commanders over civilian deaths resulting from their raids. The Taliban and other insurgents use the deaths as leverage to turn Afghans against the government, he says.

But claims of civilian deaths can be tricky. Relatives of Afghan victims are given condolence payments by Mr. Karzai’s government and the U.S. military, providing an incentive to make false claims.

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