Friday, May 14, 2010

KABUL (AP) — Hundreds of protesters brandished sticks, threw stones and burned an American flag Friday in eastern Afghanistan as they accused NATO forces of killing civilians in an overnight raid, but the alliance said eight insurgents were killed in the attack.

Also Friday, the governor of eastern Paktiya province narrowly escaped an attack when a suicide bomber jumped in front of a vehicle in his convoy in the provincial capital, Gardez, the governor’s spokesman said.

In the neighboring province of Nangahar, more than 500 people poured into the streets in the Surkh Rod district to protest the raid by international forces.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s office said in a faxed statement that ten “innocent people” were killed in the Surkh Rod village of Saydan, and that he “strongly condemned” the operation.

The statement made no mention of any role for Afghan troops, who often accompany NATO forces, in the operation. Mr. Karzai ordered security officials to review the incident and report back to the presidential palace.

Mr. Karzai expressed sadness at the “painful” incident, it said.

Mohammed Arish, a government administrator in Surkh Rod, said a father and his four sons and four members of another family were killed in the NATO operation.

“They are farmers. They are innocent. They are not insurgents or militants,” Mr. Arish told the Associated Press by phone.

However, NATO said the raid involved allied and Afghan forces and targeted insurgents. Eight — including a Taliban sub-commander — were killed in a firefight, said alliance spokesman Col. Wayne Shanks.

Col. Shanks revised NATO’s original version of events, saying militants had not fired rocket-propelled grenades at coalition forces, as had been first believed. He said the suspected insurgents had fired machine guns.

Two other people were captured during the operation, and weapons and communications gear were confiscated at the targeted compound, Col. Shanks said.

Locals paraded out several of the bodies during the demonstration.

Protesters blocked roads, hurled stones at a government office and sought to march toward the provincial capital of Jalalabad, before being turned back by police, Mr. Arish said. At least three people were injured during a clash with police, the Nangahar governor’s office said.

Zemeri Bashary, an Interior Ministry spokesman, said police investigators were heading to the area to look into whether the people killed were civilians or insurgents.

Safiya Sidiqi, a parliamentary lawmaker from Nangahar, accused allied forces in the operation of relying on flawed intelligence fed by enemies of the state who want to drive a wedge between civilians and the government.

“Unfortunately, they are getting wrong intelligence reports, or the spies and these intelligence people are purposely providing incorrect information,” she said by phone.

She said the men killed were all members of the same extended family, and that many were farmers who had been working late in the fields.

Late last month, NATO and Afghan forces led a nighttime raid on Ms. Sidiqi’s home in eastern Afghanistan and fatally shot her brother-in-law, she said then. At that time, NATO said coalition forces had killed an armed individual during a pursuit of a suspected Taliban accomplice. It did not identify the person killed.

Civilian deaths at the hands of NATO forces are highly sensitive. Public outrage over such deaths led Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander, last year to tighten the rules on combat if civilians are at risk.

Gen. McChrystal has ordered allied forces to avoid night raids when possible and bring Afghan troops with them if they do enter homes after dark. But he stopped short of seeking a complete ban sought by Mr. Karzai, who discussed the issue in meetings this week with U.S. officials in Washington.

Also Friday, NATO said at least nine insurgents were killed the previous night during a pursuit of suspected militants in the Tarnak Wa Jaldak district of eastern Zabul province.

Col. Shanks said an American service member died in an insurgent attack in the east Friday, but he did not provide details. The alliance said another service member died a day earlier following in a roadside bombing in the restive south. NATO has not indicated the nationality of the service member, citing a policy of deferring to member nations.

With the deaths, NATO has lost 23 service members in Afghanistan this month.

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