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NATO probes Afghan civilian deaths allegations

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 7 Jul 2011 05:50 GMT
Author: Reuters
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KABUL, July 7 (Reuters) - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said on Thursday it was looking into allegations by Afghan residents an air strike it carried out southwest of Kabul had killed two civilians.

The statement came after hundreds of people gathered in restive Ghazni province on Wednesday to protest about the deaths of two young shepherds they said were killed in an air strike by foreign forces that day.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had conducted an air strike in the Khogyani district of Ghazni where the protests took place, but said it had only killed one insurgent who had been planting a bomb.

"Although operational reporting indicates that only the insurgent targeted was killed, ISAF takes all allegations of civilian casualties seriously, and, in conjunction with the Afghan government, makes every effort to address them," ISAF said in a statement.

It said it had launched an investigation into the incident together with the Afghan Interior Ministry.

The mistaken killing of civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and has soured the feelings of many ordinary Afghans towards foreign forces.

Earlier this year, two NATO helicopters gunned down nine Afghan boys as they collected firewood in a volatile province in northeastern Afghanistan.

The incident prompted a sharp rebuke from Karzai and a rare and candid apology by the commander of U.S. and NATO forces General David Petraeus. U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed "deep regret" over the killings.

As violence has spread across the country, casualties have risen, and the United Nations said May was the deadliest month for civilians since they began keeping records four years earlier.

However, the U.N. also said insurgents were responsible for more than 80 percent of the 301 civilian deaths in May.

In another incident, ISAF said one of its helicopters had crashed in Parwan province, north of the Afghan capital, on Thursday. All crew members had been recovered without injuries, it said.

ISAF said it was investigating the cause of the crash but initial reporting showed their was "no enemy activity in the area at the time of the incident". (Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Daniel Magnowski)

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