Thursday, October 1, 2009

6 or more Afghan civilians die in airstrike

KABUL – An airstrike on a compound in southwestern Afghanistan killed at least six civilians, a local tribal leader said Thursday, after the U.S. military reported that ground forces were coming under fire from inside the residence and called in aircraft.

Civilian deaths have been a source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and U.S. military commanders and have infuriated many ordinary Afghans, who claim international soldiers use heavy-handed tactics.

In Helmand province, local tribal leader Ghulam Mohammad Khan said a farmer, his wife and four children were among nine dead in the airstrike Wednesday evening. He said three guests at the compound also died, but he did not know their identities.

U.S. officials said they were investigating the reports of civilian deaths in the Helmand airstrike and met Thursday with local leaders.

Gen. Stanley McChrystal has made protecting innocent Afghans a priority since taking command this summer and has ordered troops to limit airstrikes.

In Logar province, in eastern Afghanistan, a spokesman for the governor said villagers claimed a U.S. operation overnight killed an innocent shopkeeper and complained that American forces had wrongly detained three civilians. Din Mohammad Darwesh, the spokesman, said villagers were refusing to bury the shopkeeper's body, in order to prove his innocence, and demanding the release of the three men.

Also Thursday, a U.S. military helicopter made an emergency landing after coming under rocket-propelled grenade fire in Nangahar province of eastern Afghanistan, U.S. spokeswoman Capt. Regina Willis said.

There were no serious injuries, she said.

The incidents occurred as President Barack Obama is considering whether to send thousands more U.S. troops to Afghanistan to confront a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

Top military commanders and congressional Republicans are pushing for a troop increase, but there are division within the Obama administration on whether to escalate the U.S. presence.

White House officials say it may take weeks more before the president decides whether to overhaul the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan or send more troops.

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