Karzai says NATO air raids killed 50 civilians

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Asadabad, Feb 20 (AFP) President Hamid Karzai todayaccused NATO troops of killing more than 50 civilians in atroubled province of eastern Afghanistan, as internationaltroops pledged to probe the allegations.

Karzai''s statement followed comments by FazilullahWahidi, provincial governor of Kunar province, alleging US-ledNATO forces had killed up to 63 people, including women andchildren in airstrikes on suspected rebels.

Citing information from Afghanistan''s spy agencyand local officials Karzai said "about 50 civilians have beenmartyred during international military forces operations inGhaziabad district in Kunar province."

Adding that he "strongly condemns" the deaths,Karzai pledged to send investigators to the remote district.

Wahidi earlier told AFP that most of the dead werecivilians including 20 women, three elderly men and a numberof children.

They were killed mostly in air raids by the ISAFagainst suspected rebels in Kunar province''s Ghaziabaddistrict, a remote mountainous region at the feet of the HinduKush ranges, he added.

Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces areextremely sensitive in Afghanistan, where about 140,000 US-ledforeign and Afghan troops are waging a counterinsurgencycampaign to tackle a nearly 10-year Taliban-led insurgency.

NATO said today that it would also investigate theallegations and confirmed an ongoing operation in the restivearea, but said as many as 36 insurgents had been killed.

"We are conducting an immediate assessment of theseallegations and will report our findings," said US ArmyColonel Patrick Hynes in a statement.

"ISAF reporting and weapons system video shows 36insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. Thisoperation took place in a very remote valley in Kunarprovince, over very rugged terrain in the late night/earlymorning hours," the statement added.

A human rights watchdog said earlier this monththat 2010 was the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans sincethe US-led invasion of 2001, with more than 2,400 civilianskilled.

Taliban and other insurgents were responsible formore than 60 per cent of the dead, the report by theAfghanistan Rights Monitor said, blaming the US-led force for21 per cent of the casualties.

A limited withdrawal of foreign forces is expectedto start from more stable provinces of Afghanistan from July.

But in the latest major attack to strike thecountry, a Taliban assault on a bank in eastern Afghanistankilled 38 people and wounded more than 70 others, officialssaid today. It was the deadliest attack since June last year.

(AFP)

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