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Afghan authorities: NATO air strike kills eight civilians

May 27, 2012 |  4:12 am

Protest600

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan -- Afghan authorities on Sunday said a NATO air strike killed a family of eight at their house in eastern Afghanistan.

If confirmed, the attack could anger Afghan leaders at a time when Washington needs Kabul’s cooperation in carrying out a blueprint for engagement after the U.S. wraps up its troop withdrawal in 2014.

The air strike occurred about 8 p.m. Saturday in the Gerda Serai district of Paktia province, a volatile region along the Pakistan border. Rohulla Samoon, spokesman for the Paktia governor’s office, said a NATO air strike had killed eight civilians -- Mohammed Shafi, his wife and his six children -- all of whom were inside their house at the time.

Samoon said there is no evidence that Shafi was a Taliban insurgent or linked with Al Qaeda. “Afghan security forces were not informed about the operation,” Samoon said. “Our concern is why [Western coalition] troops don’t share these issues with Afghan security forces. If they had shared this with us, this wouldn’t have happened.”

A NATO spokesman said the incident appeared to be precipitated by an insurgent attack on Western troops in Paktia province. Coalition troops returned fire and called for air support. “We’re actively gathering information to assess what did occur,” said U.S. Air Force Capt. Justin Brockhoff, a coalition spokesman.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered his government to conduct its own investigation into the air strike in Paktia, according to a statement issued by his office.

Most Afghan civilian killings are the result of actions by Taliban insurgents rather than by coalition forces. Nevertheless, the issue of civilian deaths attributed to coalition forces resonates more intensely with an Afghan population that disapproves of the presence of U.S. and Western troops in their country.

According to the United Nations, more than 3,000 civilians were killed in wartime violence last year, and three-fourths of those deaths were attributed to insurgent attacks. The actions of Western coalition and Afghan troops were responsible for 14% of civilian deaths last year.

Earlier this month, 14 Afghan civilians were killed in NATO air strikes in the northwest province of Badghis and in southern Helmand province. In the air strike in Helmand, a woman and five children were killed, Afghan authorities said.

On May 2, President Obama and Afghan President Hamid Karzai signed a strategic partnership pact that pledges military training, development assistance and equipment to Afghanistan for the next decade. Karzai welcomed the pact, but has warned that “if the lives of Afghan people are not safe, the signing of the strategic partnership has no meaning.”

Elsewhere in the country, a NATO spokesman said four coalition troops died Saturday in three separate roadside bomb attacks in southern Afghanistan. The nationalities of the troops who died were not given, and the alliance provided no other details.

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--Alex Rodriguez and Aimal Yaqubi

Staff writer Rodriguez reported from Islamabad, Pakistan, and special correspondent Aimal Yaqubi reported from Kabul, Afghanistan.

Photo: More than 1,500 Afghans block the highway between Kabul and Kandahar in Seed Abad, in Wardak province, to protest nighttime military operations. Credit: Rahmatullah Nikzad / AP Photo

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