US military probes reports of Afghan civilian deaths

June 11th, 2009 - 5:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Kabul, June 11 (DPA) The US military said Thursday that a targeted rebel commander in western Afghanistan survived an airstrike, but it was investigating “unsubstantiated” reports that civilians were among the dead.
The US military said that its air force killed an insurgent commander, Mullah Mustafa, and 16 of his fighters in an airstrike in western Ghor province Wednesday. It added the “warlord” had links with Iran and the Taliban.

However, the military said in an updated statement Thursday that “credible reports surfaced that Mustafa survived the attack.”

It also said that “unsubstantiated reports of civilian casualties emerged,” and that the military was working with the Afghan government to investigate the allegations.

In a telephone interview with Tolo TV, Mustafa said that he was unharmed in the airstrike but his six-year-old son and 10-year-old brother were among civilians killed in the airstrike.

Ghor’s deputy governor, Ikramuddin Rezazada, also said that the villagers reported to the provincial authorities that 10 civilians, including six children were killed when the truck in which they were travelling was hit by the airstrike.

There were also reports of 12 militants killed in the bombing, he said, adding that the provincial governor had assigned a team to investigate the incident.

Civilian casualties at the hands of international forces have become the main source of tension between the Afghan government and foreign forces in the country.

The new NATO commander for Afghanistan, US Lieutenant General Stanley McChrystal, who was approved by the US Senate on Wednesday, has vowed to decrease civilian deaths during the alliance’s operations in Afghanistan.

During his confirmation hearing before the Senate Armed Services Committee, McChrystal said that the victory could not be measured by the number of dead militants but by the number of civilians protected from violence.

McChrystal said he would protect civilians by reviewing deployment guidelines, limiting airstrikes and deploying strengthened small fighting units on the ground.

“If defeating an insurgent formation produces popular resentment, the victory is hollow and unsustainable,” he said.

The deadliest incident involving civilians happened last month in western Farah province, in which the Afghan government said that more than 140 civilians were killed in a US military airstrike.

The US military did not confirm the Afghan government figures, but admitted that military procedures were not fully obeyed in that strike.

Afghan government officials have warned that the killings of civilians could rise as 21,000 additional US soldiers are expected to arrive in Afghanistan by the summer. Currently more than 70,000 international troops, more than half of them US soldiers, are stationed in the country.

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