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Coalition Air Strikes in Afghanistan Stoke Tensions Over Civilian Death Toll

BY Admin  August 11, 2008 at 12:00 PM EDT

NATO forces inspect a car bomb in Kabul; AP Photo

Sunday’s attack occurred after Taliban fighters ambushed coalition forces in Uruzgan province with rocket-propelled grenades. The militants then fled to a compound where they took at least 11 civilians hostage. Coalition forces then called in an air strike on the facility.

A coalition statement said they were not aware that civilians were in the building. The militants “then fled into a neighboring compound where they held 11 non-combatants hostage,” the statement said, according to Reuters.

U.S. 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman, said three civilian hostages survived the airstrike in Uruzgan, including an infant, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s.

President Hamid Karzai told reporters on Sunday that he wanted the anti-terror strategy to focus instead on targeting militant hideouts in neighboring Pakistan.

“The war on terrorism is not in Afghan villages. Therefore, the use of air force in the war against terrorism in the Afghan villages will have no result but causing civilian casualties,” Karzai said, according to the Associated Press.

International forces are permitted to call in airstrikes when they are under attack even if they cannot be 100-percent sure there are no civilians in the area, leading to the highest number of civilian deaths tied to coalition activity, NATO officials say.

In a separate incident Monday, a suicide bomber killed at least one civilian and wounded 17 others in an attack targeting foreign troops in the outskirts of Afghanistan’s capital Kabul. The blast also wounded some NATO soldiers, NATO’s press office told the AP.

In another part of Kabul, a roadside bomb killed a senior police officer and two guards, Reuters reported.

And in the northern province of Faryab, an attack against a NATO convoy reportedly wounded at least 10 civilians and two soldiers, according to the provincial police chief.

The Afghan government has voiced ongoing concerns that reports of civilian deaths will increase resentment toward NATO and U.S.-led troops. The police chief of Uruzgan Juma Gul blamed the Taliban for the deaths on Sunday.

“The Taliban uses innocent civilians’ homes, taking them by force to attack Afghan and coalition forces,” Gul said according to U.S. military reports. “If civilians get killed during these attacks, the responsibility falls on the Taliban and their terrorist sponsors,” he said.

Over the weekend, local authorities were checking reports of possible civilian deaths in a U.S. air strike Kapisa province, a region where NATO and U.S. troops have clashed several times with militants in recent months. On Monday, Karzai called for an investigation into the attacks.

According to the United Nations in June, nearly 700 Afghan civilians have been killed since the start of the year, most of them as a result of Taliban attacks. An increasingly common Taliban tactic uses suicide bombers to target Afghan and foreign forces, but about 80 percent of the deaths from the attacks are civilians.