- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 14, 2009

LONDON (AP) | A British television report to be broadcast Monday says American forces who killed scores of people last August in Azizabad, western Afghanistan, attacked the village on the basis of false allegations inspired by a blood feud with a neighboring community.

An hourlong, in-depth documentary, previewed by the Associated Press and to be broadcast by Channel 4, includes scenes from a Herat provincial court trial in which a leader from the rival village was sentenced to death for murder for having given false information leading to the deaths of 91 innocent Azizabad civilians.

Despite that court ruling, the U.S. Central Command maintains its position that the Americans killed 22 Taliban fighters, along with 33 civilians.

The British broadcaster will also report that U.S. special forces are not cooperating with local police seeking three men from Kalask, the rival village, in the torture death of an Azizabad man. The suspects are guards at the U.S. base in nearby Shindand.

The report’s producer-director and narrator, Tom Roberts, says provincial officials believe U.S. forces have taken sides in the inter-village feud, which apparently stems from competition for Shindand base jobs.

The Azizabad attack badly strained U.S. relations with its Afghan ally, as has a more recent U.S. attack, in Farah province on May 4-5, when, Afghan officials say, 140 villagers were killed. U.S. officials say no more than 30 civilians died, along with 60 to 65 militants.

After the ground and air assault by U.S. and Afghan forces Aug. 22 on Azizabad, the U.S. military said 30 militants were killed and no civilians. It later acknowledged five civilian deaths. Still later, a Central Command investigative report raised the civilian toll to 33.

Investigations by the Afghan government and the United Nations, meanwhile, found that about 90 civilians were killed. Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said no Taliban were killed, and the attack was based on “total misinformation” that the enemy were present in Azizabad.

At the trial in March, a panel of judges found Kalask village’s Mohammed Nader guilty of murder, saying he knowingly gave U.S. forces false information about Azizabad. Residents had testified to seeing Nader with the raiders that night. His conviction and death sentence are on appeal.

Local police appearing in the Channel 4 report also describe an ambush of Azizabad men by Kalask residents in December, when an Azizabad man was killed, fellow villagers rushed to the rescue, and Shindand base guards also arrived on the scene.

One Azizabad man was then seized and taken away in a convoy of U.S. special forces and Afghan guards, the police say. Four hours later, they say, the Americans delivered the man’s body to an Afghan army headquarters. An autopsy found he had been tortured, Channel 4 reports.

Since then, authorities have been unable to get U.S. cooperation in disarming and handing over three Afghan guards suspected in the man’s death, the report says.

Asked to comment on these elements of the TV report, spokesman Maj. John H. Redfield said the Central Command “stands by” its earlier investigation. When asked specifically about the wanted men, he did not address the issue.

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