|5 Afghan children killed in raids|
|1. September 2008, 14:08|
By FISNIK ABRASHI, Associated Press Writer
Foreign and Afghan forces accidentally killed five children in two separate operations Monday, further undermining President Hamid Karzai after he demanded a halt to attacks in civilian areas.
Afghan officials have accused forces from the U.S. and other countries of killing dozens of civilians in recent weeks. The deaths have inflamed tensions across the country and weakened public support for both Karzai's government and a continued foreign troop presence in Afghanistan.
NATO said it accidentally killed three children in an artillery strike in the east on Monday after insurgents attacked its troops in the area. One artillery round slammed into a house in the Gayan district of Paktika province.
A NATO statement said it "deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way."
Afghan government officials were not immediately available for comment on Monday, a national holiday.
In a separate raid, police officer Qubaidullah, who like many Afghans goes by one name, said U.S. troops backed by Afghan intelligence agents killed a man and his two children near the capital, Kabul.
However, 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a U.S. coalition spokesman, said no American troops took part in the operation. NATO said it could not confirm its troops had participated.
Angry men gathered at the victims' house in the Utkheil area east of Kabul where the three bodies were displayed inside a mud-walled compound, said relative Yahya Khan.
American and NATO officials say they do all they can to minimize civilian deaths and accuse militants of hiding and firing at them from civilian homes.
But Karzai called on American and NATO commanders last month to stop their airstrikes in civilian areas of Afghanistan, and instead go after terror centers in neighboring Pakistan. The Taliban and other insurgents use the deaths as leverage to turn Afghans away from the government, he says.
In another sign that the civilian deaths are undermining NATO's mission, the alliance issued an unusual statement Sunday warning that the Taliban planned to make a false claim about the killings of civilians in the southern Helmand province.
Separately, the military alliance said its forces had helped more than 20 wounded civilians who approached two of its bases in Helmand province.
NATO said the civilians were wounded in two separate incidents involving insurgents.
"Insurgents ransacked three compounds and killed three women and an unspecified number of children," in Helmand's Sarevan Qaleh village, NATO said in a statement, quoting one of those wounded. "He then reported that the insurgents had shot him in both kneecaps before fleeing," it said.
Claims of civilians deaths can be tricky because independent observers are routinely unable to reach the areas of the conflict.
The issue is a particularly sensitive topic in Afghanistan following the Aug. 22 bombing of the village of Azizabad in Herat province by the U.S.-led coalition. An Afghan government commission said 90 civilians were killed, a finding backed by a preliminary U.N. report.
The U.S. military has said 25 militants and five civilians were killed, and that it is investigating the incident.
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