KABUL (BNO NEWS) — Twelve children and two women were killed on Saturday evening when NATO-led forces carried out an airstrike in southern Afghanistan, local officials said on Sunday.
The airstrike by the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) was carried out in the Salam Bazaar area of Now Zad district in Helmand province. It was reportedly carried out in response to an insurgent attack on a nearby ISAF base.
“We can confirm that ISAF conducted an airstrike in Now Zad district yesterday, in support of ISAF service members on the ground,” an ISAF spokesperson said on Sunday. “We are aware of reports alleging civilian casualties as a result of that.”
Provincial officials said the ISAF airstrike hit two residential homes and killed two women and twelve children, including five girls and seven boys. A photo published by the Pajhwok Afghan News agency showed the bodies of the victims in the back of a truck after they were recovered from the scene.
The tragic airstrike was strongly condemned by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who earlier on Saturday had told ISAF to stop ‘arbitrary operations’ and operations during nighttime. “The U.S. and ISAF forces have repeatedly been told that their irresponsible operations are harming innocent and poor Afghans,” Karzai said on Sunday, adding that NATO does not take their warnings seriously.
ISAF said it has dispatched a joint assessment team composed of Afghan and ISAF representatives to investigate the incident, and refused to answer questions about what led to the airstrike. “As it is our policy at [ISAF Joint Command] to refrain from discussing specific details until the assessment team has concluded its investigation, we cannot answer those questions until its report has been released,” an ISAF spokesperson said.
Saturday’s incident comes at a time when U.S.-Afghan relations are under extreme pressure over a number of incidents involving civilian casualties. In early March, ISAF forces accidentally killed nine children in the Darah-Ye Pech district of Kunar Province.
And in February, Afghan officials said 64 civilians were killed when ISAF carried out an airstrike in the Ghaziabad district of Kunar province. NATO disputed these findings, saying they were insurgents, even though Afghan officials said 29 children were among the deaths.
According an annual report released and conducted by the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, the number of conflict-related civilian deaths in Afghanistan increased by 15 percent in 2010.
According to the report, anti-government elements such as the Taliban were linked to 2,080 civilian deaths (75 percent of all civilian deaths), up 28 percent from 2009, while pro-government forces such as ISAF were linked to 440 civilian deaths (16 percent), down 26 percent from 2009. In addition, 9 percent of civilian deaths in 2010 could not be attributed to any party in the conflict.
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