IMAGE: HOME HIT BY NATO AIRSTRIKE
Allauddin Khan  /  AP
An Afghan policeman stands Wednesday inside a mud-brick house damaged during a NATO airstrike. Residents said five children, five women and three men were killed.
updated 10/18/2006 2:09:50 PM ET 2006-10-18T18:09:50

NATO air strikes killed 13 civilians Wednesday in southern Afghanistan, residents said, while 13 other civilians reportedly were killed in a firefight with suspected Taliban militants elsewhere in the volatile area.

The air strikes hit three homes in the Zhari district of Kandahar province, killing nine civilians and wounding 11, Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid said, adding that an unknown number of Taliban militants also were killed. Residents put the casualty toll at 13 killed and 15 wounded.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the operation in Kandahar was believed to have caused “several” civilian casualties.

The alliance said the operation was meant to detain people involved in roadside bomb attacks in Panjwayi district, which borders Zhari. NATO said it regretted any civilian casualties and stressed it makes every effort to minimize the risk of such deaths during operations.

Giant pieces of mud packed with straw were scattered on the narrow lane running through the village. One home had only one wall standing. A blast ripped a hole through the middle of another.

Bibi Farida, a 6-year-old whose red hair was matted with dirt, fidgeted and bit down on her scarf as she remembered the early morning assault. “I cried. I just cried,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.

'Maybe they should leave'
Villagers Gulab Shah, whose deep dirty green baggy pants were hiked up past his ankles, the sign of a deeply conservative man, gestured toward the destroyed homes.

“If the foreign soldiers were so smart that they knew there were Taliban here why didn’t they see the women and children who were sleeping? Why do they want to kill us? How can they help us rebuild if they want to kill us. Maybe they should leave!” he shouted. Shah and other residents said 13 people were killed and 15 wounded.

The provincial governor said it seemed clear from the villagers that Taliban had not been in their village when the bombing occurred.

“But it is hard to know when the Taliban are moving around from one place to another, but it seems they weren’t here,” he said.

Elsewhere, a rocket hit a house during a nighttime clash between suspected Taliban insurgents and NATO and Afghan security forces in Helmand province’s Grishk district, 135 miles west of Kandahar city, police said. A resident said 13 villagers, including women and children, died.

NATO spokesman Jason Chalk said alliance jets and helicopters fired rockets and dropped bombs on Taliban positions in the area after 2 a.m. Wednesday but could not say if they hit a civilian house. “For the moment, it’s impossible to substantiate that claim,” he said.

He said Taliban had been using mortars in the area of the clash.

At least one Taliban militant was killed and three police were wounded in Tajikai village before the rocket slammed into the house, said provincial police chief Ghulam Nabi Malakhel. He said it was uncertain which side fired the rocket.

Five women, five children reported killed
Abdul Rehman, a resident in the village contacted by phone, said a rocket fired from an aircraft hit the dried mud house, killing five women, five children and three men inside.

“The government and NATO are fighting the Taliban, and civilians are the victims,” an angry Rehman told The Associated Press.

He said the bodies had been retrieved from the ruins of the five-room house. He said police were at the house and were only allowing relatives of the dead to get close.

Since late 2001, there have been numerous incidents of civilians dying in air strikes and other military action by international forces in Afghanistan. Many others have been killed in Taliban attacks, including scores in recent suicide attacks.

President Hamid Karzai repeatedly has demanded that NATO and U.S.-led coalition forces take more care when conducting military operations in residential areas to avoid civilian casualties, which undermine his government’s already weak standing in parts of the country.

Karzai’s office had no comment on the air strike. But Khalid said he called Karzai on his cell phone from the village, and the president expressed his sympathy. “He told them how he hurt for them and how sad he was for their loss,” Khan said.

This year, southern Afghanistan has faced the deadliest spate in violence in the country since the ouster of the Taliban regime by U.S.-led forces five years ago, as newly deployed NATO troops have battled resurgent militants.

In May, 17 civilians were killed when coalition warplanes attacked Taliban forces in Kandahar province. The U.S. military, which said dozens of militants also died in the fighting, expressed regret over the deaths.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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