Afghanis Claim Civilians Massacred During Air Strikes
When NATO claims, as it has today, that its forces have killed "scores" of Taliban fighters, do they mean men who recieved training under the Taliban, or unemployed farmers who were paid a few dollars a day to pick up a gun and act as a guard for a Taliban outpost?
The controversy over whether all fighters killed in clashes in Afghanistan can be called Taliban, or Al Qaeda, has not gone away in more than six years of fighting, but it is clear that persons aligned or employed by the Taliban are falling in great numbers to NATO forces is a reality.
As the conflict stands today, NATO has deployed more than 36,000 troops into Afghanistan, with a focus of operations in the south of the country. The US has deployed an 'extra' 11,000 or more troops into the east, to try and stem the flow of new fighters entering across the borders with Pakistan.
The Taliban, meanwhile, claims it holds the allegiance of hundreds of thousands of Afghanis, many tens of thousands of whom, it claims, are fighting NATO forces or are willing to fight. In addition the Taliban, and Al Qaeda, claim they have at least two thousands suicide bombers waiting for their moment of opportunity to strike as lethal a blow as they are able.
The presidents of Pakistan and Afghanistan met in Turkey today and are said to have agreed to work together to stop jihadists entering Afghanistan, or crossing the borders from Pakistan. President Karzai and President Musharraf didn't shake hands at the meeting, and didn't take any questions during a 'media conference'.
President Karzai's fading popularity in Afghanistan is viewed by Pakistan and NATO countries as being a key factor in the decay of the country's security.
From the New York Times :
United States Special Forces said they killed more than 130 Taliban in two recent days of heavy fighting in a valley in western Afghanistan, but hundreds of angry villagers protested in nearby Shindand on Monday, saying dozens of civilians had been killed when the Americans called in airstrikes.
The protesters sacked and burned government buildings, said Noor Khan Nekzad, a spokesman for the provincial police. He said none of the demonstrators were injured, but news reports said a number of protesters were hurt as the police and the army moved in to subdue the crowd.
The American military said that the fighting against the Taliban occurred Friday and Sunday in the Zerkoh Valley, near the Iranian border about 30 miles south of the city of Herat, and that the Special Forces called in airstrikes on at least two occasions. An American soldier was killed in the fighting on Friday, the military said, but there were no other reported casualties on the coalition side.
Forty-nine Taliban fighters, including two leaders of the group, were killed in the first bombardment on Friday, and 87 militants were killed in bombing during a second battle on Sunday that raged for 14 hours, the military said in a statement from the United States-led coalition headquarters at the Bagram air base.
But the local residents said that civilians were killed in the bombardment and that some drowned in the river as they fled, according to a local member of Parliament, Maulavi Gul Ahmad. News agencies reported that demonstrators said women and children were among the dead.
Mr. Ahmad condemned the bombing and said that the fighting angered local residents because the Americans raided their houses at night.
“They should not do that,” he said in a telephone interview. “The number that they claim — that 130 Taliban were killed — is totally wrong. There are no Taliban there.”
Raiding houses touches a nerve in Afghanistan, especially in conservative tribal areas, because the local custom dictates that men who are not family members cannot enter the parts of homes where the women stay. Such raids were upsetting local sensibilities so much several years ago that the American forces made an agreement with the Afghan government that they would not raid houses without the presence of Afghan elders or the police. The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission says that the agreement is still in effect, but that American troops do not always adhere to it.
But an Afghan military official, who asked not to be identified, presented a different version of events from that of Mr. Ahmad. He said that the Special Forces had run into trouble on Friday, when they were surrounded by insurgents, and that they requested support from the Afghan National Army.
Afghan Army and police officials denied any involvement in the fighting.
From the London Times :
In what was reportedly the deadliest fighting in the country since January, US and Afghan army forces claimed to have destroyed seven Taleban positions and killed at least 87 fighters at Herat province yesterday, after receiving a tip-off about Taleban activity in the area's Zerkoh Valley. The attack, which Nato said was a combined ground and air strike, reportedly lasted 14 hours.
No coalition troops were believed to have been killed or injured in either attack.
Gul Aqa, the district's police chief, told the AFP news agency that the attacks had killed "a large number of people," but could not confirm the exact number.
Confirmation of the weekend's operations came as Britain announced today that about 2,000 troops - made up of both UK and Afghan forces - had launched a new operation to flush Taleban fighters out of a valley in Helmand province.
Operation Silicon, which will be focused on the Sangin Valley area, aims to clear the fundamentalist group's forces from Afghanistan's premier opium-producing province.
The province produces about 40 percent of the total amount of opium from Afghanistan, which illegally supplies more than 90 percent of the world's supply of the drug.
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