- The Washington Times - Monday, April 5, 2010

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — NATO forces said they killed 10 militants in a raid on a compound near the Pakistani border early Monday, while gunmen seriously wounded an Afghan provincial councilwoman in a drive-by shooting in the country’s increasingly violent north.

NATO also confirmed that international troops were responsible for the deaths of five civilians, including three women, in February.

Such killings have strained ties between the government of President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, which have been further inflamed by Mr. Karzai’s recent allegations of foreign manipulation of last year’s presidential election.

Members of Parliament said in a closed-door meeting Saturday that Mr. Karzai twice threatened to abandon the political process and join the Taliban insurgency if pressure continued from lawmakers and foreign backers who have demanded he do more to end graft, cronyism and electoral fraud.

The lawmakers, who spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid political repercussions, said Mr. Karzai also dismissed concerns over damage to relations with the United States. He told them he already had explained himself in a telephone conversation Saturday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that came after the White House described his comments as troubling.

The lawmakers said they felt Mr. Karzai was pandering to hard-line or pro-Taliban members of Parliament. But such statements also have given the impression the president, who relies on tens of thousands of U.S. and NATO forces to fight the insurgency and prop up his weak government, is increasingly erratic in his pronouncements.

Mr. Karzai’s spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment Monday.

A NATO statement said a joint international-Afghan patrol fired on two men mistakenly believed to be insurgents in the Feb. 12 incident in Gardez, south of Kabul. It said the three women were “accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men.”

Family members said they were awaiting formal notice of the NATO admission.

In Monday’s raid, which began about 2 a.m. (5:30 p.m. EDT Sunday), U.S. troops backed by Afghan army and police forces moved on a compound in Nangarhar province’s Khogyani district after receiving reports of militant activity there, the international forces command said in another statement.

They were fired on with heavy weapons, and 10 militants were killed and one wounded in the ensuing firefight, the statement said. A search of the compound found automatic rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, material for building roadside bombs, and communications equipment, NATO said. It said no civilians were harmed in the operation.

In the latest of a series of targeted assassination attempts blamed on militants, Baghlan provincial council member Nida Khyani was struck by gunfire in the leg and abdomen in Pul-e Khumri, capital of the northern province, said Salim Rasouli, head of the provincial health department. Khyani’s bodyguard also was injured slightly.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the shooting, although suspicion immediately fell on Taliban fighters who often target people working with the Afghan government and their Western backers.

In the national Parliament in Kabul, a lawmaker from Baghlan province shared details of the attack and lamented the security problems female officials face in Afghanistan.

“It happened in the center of the city,” Shaukria Esakhil said. “How can a woman work under these kinds of conditions?”

One month ago, a member of the Afghan national Parliament escaped injury when her convoy was attacked by Taliban insurgents in eastern Afghanistan. Female government officials regularly report receiving threats to their safety. Some female leaders, including a prominent policewoman, have been assassinated.

The Taliban rigidly oppose education for girls and women’s participation in public affairs, citing their narrow interpretation of conservative Islam and tribal traditions. Militants, who are strongest in the south and east, carry out beatings and other punishments for perceived women’s crimes from immodesty to leaving home unaccompanied by a male relative.

Also Monday, the organizer of a national reconciliation conference, known as a jirga, scheduled for early May said it would not include insurgent groups such as the Taliban. There also have been indications it would include discussion of the withdrawal of 120,000 foreign troops in the country.

“This jirga is not with the opposition,” said Ghulam Farooq Wardak, the minister of education who is organizing the conference. He said it will focus on outlining ways to reach peace with the insurgents and the framework for possible discussions.

Out of the jirga will come the “powerful voice of the Afghan people,” Mr. Wardak said. “By fighting, you cannot restore security. The only way to bring peace is through negotiation,” he said.

NATO, meanwhile, is under constant pressure to prevent killings of civilians in military operations, amid concerns it only serves to boost support for the insurgency and undermine Mr. Karzai’s weak government.

NATO conceded the Feb. 12 killings in Gardez were the result of faulty intelligence and its forces killed the two men because they believed they posed a threat to their personal safety. On the night of the attack, the family was celebrating the birth of a grandson.

“We deeply regret the outcome of this operation, accept responsibility for our actions that night, and know that this loss will be felt forever by the families,” spokesman Brig Gen. Eric Tremblay said in the statement.

“We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families,” he said. International forces were working with Afghan security partners to improve coordination and “help prevent such mistakes from happening again,” Gen. Tremblay said.

He said initial reports that the dead women were bound and gagged before the raid apparently were based on a misinterpretation of Islamic burial customs, which require bodies be shrouded for speedy burial. Typically limbs are bound to allow the body to be more easily lifted into the grave.

International force officials will discuss the results of the investigation with family of those killed, apologize and provide compensation, he said.

The two men killed in the Gardez raid were long-serving government loyalists and opponents of al Qaeda and the Taliban, one serving as provincial district attorney and the other as police chief in Paktia’s Zurmat district.

Their brother, who also lost his wife and a sister, said he learned of the investigation result from the Internet but had yet to receive formal notice.

Mohammad Sabar said the family’s only demand was that the informant who passed on the faulty information about militant activity be tried and publicly executed.

“Please, please, please, our desire, our demand is that this spy be executed in front of the people to ensure that such bad things don’t happen again,” Mr. Sabar said.

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