Kabul, March 3 – A joint inquiry by the NATO-led international force in Afghanistan and Afghan authorities has concluded that eight civilians were killed during a recent battle with insurgents in the south.
Civilian casualties are a highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan where some 70,000 foreign troops are deployed to help Kabul’s Western-backed government fight an increasingly bloody insurgency.
The deaths of civilians during foreign military operations are a key source of friction between Washington and Kabul.
In a joint statement, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force and the government of Helmand province said 17 other civilians were wounded in the February 23 firefight which erupted when an ISAF patrol was ambushed.
It said the ISAF patrol “defended itself as the attack continued for a few hours.
“Regretfully, as a result of this engagement, eight people were killed and 17 people were injured,” it went on. “There were also casualties inflicted on the enemy.”
It said ISAF had accepted a request from the Helmand provincial government for “financial help and assistance” for the victims of the clash in the Sangin district.
“They (civilians) were killed in fire from ISAF helicopters,” Daud Ahmadi, the Helmand government spokesman, told AFP, adding that the force also used artillery during the fighting.
According to a recent UN report, more than 2,000 civilians lost their lives in violence last year, the deadliest in Afghanistan since the US-led invasion of late 2001.
That report said NATO, US-led and Afghan security forces were to blame for nearly 40 percent of the casualties, while the rest died in rebel attacks such as suicide attacks and roadside bombs.
Foreign forces, however, rejected the figures. An ISAF spokesman said 237 civilians were killed by its NATO-led force and the separate US-led coalition last year.
The Taliban, a hardcore Islamist movement in power from 1996 to 2001, are trying to topple the Kabul government.
Meanwhile an Afghan court Sunday sentenced a man to death for giving false information to foreign forces last year about a rebel presence in a village in the west, leading to an air strike which killed about 90 non-combatants.
Also Sunday, three civilians were killed when a roadside bomb planted by insurgents blew up their vehicle in Helmand, the interior ministry said.