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Investigators confirm civilian deaths

Investigators confirm civilian deaths

Feb 24, 2011 - 17:29

ASADABAD (PAN): A government delegation confirmed on Thursday that 50 women and children were among 62 people killed in a coalition airstrike in Ghaziabad district of eastern Kunar province.

The casualties occurred during an operation by NATO-led forces in the Argal area six days ago, prompting President Karzai to order a thoroughgoing investigation into the incident.

Karzai sent a 14-member delegation, led by his advisor Shahzada Massoud, to the village on Monday. The team included a lawmaker from Kunar and officials from defence and interior ministries, as well as the Afghan spy agency.

"Our investigation shows that 62 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the raid," the delegation head told a press conference in Asadabad, the provincial capital.

Twenty-two women and 29 children were among the fatalities, he said, adding that they had held talks with the governor, officials at the police headquarters, intelligence department, district administration, residents and victims' relatives.

One of the members of the delegation, Shuja-ul-Mulk, visited Argal to collect information from affected families. Massoud said 14 insurgents were also killed during the operation.

He called on the government to try those responsible for the killing of innocent people. "If the central government does not take any action, we will move the International Court of Justice against the killings."

The advisor also condemned insurgent attacks on troops in residential areas. He said such assaults often resulted in the killing of innocent people. "Those who kill common people are the enemies of Afghans."

Massoud said residents of Ghaziabad had also suffered financial losses as a result of the attack that killed their animals and damaged their houses.

As the investigators stayed in the province, commanders of foreign troops visited them and tried to put their own spin on the incident, he said. "They change their statements and do not accept responsibility."

He rejected reports that parents might have burned their children to exaggerate claims of civilian casualties.

On Tuesday, the deaths led to testy exchanges between President Karzai and senior US military officials, who referred to a report that Afghan parents were known to discipline children by burning their hands and feet.

A presidential spokesman, Waheed Omar, described the remarks by Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, director of communications for the US-led coalition, as "outrageous, insulting and racist." He demanded a clarification.

Massoud also lashed out at the remarks. "We will ask about what they said. Even a mad man would not burn, kill or injure his children," he said.