NATO row over Afghan civilian crossfire deaths
Afghan government and NATO officials yesterday disputed each others' accounts of reports that over 50 civilians were killed after being caught up in fighting between foreign forces and Taliban insurgents.
Government spokesman Siamak Herawi said 52 people, including many women and children, were killed by a NATO-rocket attack on Friday in Sangin, Helmand province, but the NATO-led force said a preliminary investigation had not yet revealed any civilian casualties.
Civilian deaths caused by foreign forces are a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, whose 150,000 troops are engaged in an increasingly bloody war with insurgents.
Herawi said information that 52 civilians had been killed came from the country's intelligence service in the district. Karzai strongly condemned the attack and asked NATO troops to prioritise the protection of civilians.
ISAF, however, insisted that a joint investigation with the Afghan government had so far found no evidence of civilian deaths.
"The villagers took the joint team to a graveyard in Rigi village and they claimed that 35 people were buried there, but the graves seemed to be old," said Dawood Ahmadi, a government spokesman.