July 17, 2009
U.S. Strike Kills 5 Civilians, Afghans Say

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — At least five Afghan civilians were killed and 13 were wounded when a United States patrol was attacked on Wednesday night and called in air support, villagers and local officials said Thursday.
The chief spokesman for United States forces, Col. Greg Julian, said that helicopters were sent to the area on Wednesday night after the patrol came under fire, but that he could not confirm any casualties. The patrol was still engaged in fighting on Thursday afternoon, he said.
Nine wounded villagers, including two women and four children, reached a Kandahar hospital on Thursday. Several were unconscious, but others described helicopters firing into their compound at 11 p.m. as they fled the house and tried to hide in an orchard.
The United States military said it was investigating the reports of civilian casualties, and the governor of Kandahar Province sent a delegation to the village to investigate.
Two weeks ago the American commander of NATO and United States forces in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, issued new orders to try to reduce civilian casualties in an effort to win back the support of the Afghan people.
Over the past few years, NATO and United States operations have killed and wounded thousands of Afghans. This has contributed to growing opposition among Afghans to foreign forces in Afghanistan and to the government of President Hamid Karzai.
General McChrystal has called for all forces to make a “cultural shift” in their approach to the insurgency in Afghanistan and focus on respecting and protecting the local population. His tactical directive, issued on July 2, limits operations against residential compounds that are likely to produce civilian casualties.
Forces under fire and in danger have the right to defend themselves, Colonel Julian said, but “in general, if we are not certain there are no civilians in a compound we would not target the compound.”
The wounded civilians in the Kandahar hospital were from a farming family in the village of Tawalla, in the remote district of Shah Wali Kot, which has long been a stronghold of Taliban forces. One of the wounded, Muhibullah, 24, who, like many Afghans, uses only one name, said he woke to the sound of shooting and helicopters and ran from the house with the rest of the family toward an adjoining orchard owned by his uncle.
“When we reached the garden, the helicopter shot at us and injured three of my brothers, one sister, my mother, father and sister-in-law, and killed Rahmania, a 4-year-old girl,” he said.
“I do not know the reason; we did not hear any fighting that night, and there are not any Taliban in our village,” he said. “It was a very frightening night for us — we could all have been killed.”
His father, Niamatullah, 46, said that when he woke he tried to stop the family from leaving the house, but they were already running. Helicopters were hovering near the house, he said, and when he rushed after his family, the helicopters reappeared and started firing. He said that he hid behind a wall and that the helicopters fired on it. The wall collapsed, injuring his head. He found seven members of his family lying wounded on the ground in the orchard, including four of his sons, his wife, his sister-in-law and her daughter.
He listed four neighbors, all farmers in their 20s and 30s, who he said were killed in the attack, besides Rahmania, his cousin’s daughter. Haystacks and wood piles caught fire from the gunfire, which continued until 3 a.m., he said.
The governor of Kandahar Province, Tooryalai Wesa, said only four people were killed; he did not identify them. He said he did not know if the dead were civilians or insurgents, but he confirmed that there were children and women among the wounded. “We are very sad, and it should not have happened,” he said.
Mr. Niamatullah said there were no Taliban fighters in the village, but the village is close to the main road connecting Kandahar Province to Oruzgan Province to the north.
The American forces were on patrol away from civilian areas when they were attacked at 10:30 p.m. by militants firing small-caliber weapons and rocket-propelled grenades, according to an American spokeswoman, Capt. Elizabeth Mathias of the Air Force. Helicopters, and then other aircraft, responded to the attack, she said. She did not identify the United States forces involved, but American Special Forces based in Kandahar often patrol the region.
Canadian Soldier Killed
KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — Canadian authorities announced that a Canadian soldier was killed Thursday southwest of Kandahar, bringing to 47 the number of international soldiers killed in Afghanistan this month. That makes July the deadliest month of the war for foreign troops, with nearly half the month to go.
Canadian military officials said the soldier was killed at dawn on Thursday in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar, the spiritual birthplace of the Taliban. The previous deadliest months for the international force were June and August of 2008, when 46 foreign soldiers died.
Taimoor Shah reported from Kandahar, and Carlotta Gall from Kabul, Afghanistan.