Dutch military chief: Taliban executed civilians

Civilians, including women, were executed by Taliban militants if refused to join them during a recent fierce battle against NATO and Afghan government forces in the south, the Dutch military chief said Friday.

Citing "solid reports" from Afghan police, Gen. Dick Berlijn said Dutch and Afghan forces, supported by Dutch and U.S. air strikes, fended off an attempt by about 500 Taliban fighters to overrun the southern town of Chora last weekend.

During the attack, Taliban fighters tried to force local civilians to fight alongside them, "and killed citizens who refused - they were hauled out of their houses by the Taliban and executed," Berlijn told reporters.

"One police checkpoint commander saw two brothers murdered before his eyes by the Taliban," Berlijn said. Another police report "said that eight women were murdered - they had their throats slashed," he added.

Berlijn said reports suggested that between 30 and 70 enemy fighters were killed in the fighting that started June 15 and raged for several days.

He said he had no reliable figures for civilian casualties, but local officials have said more than 100 people were killed in the fighting, including 16 police. It was not immediately clear if the figure included Taliban casualties.

One Dutch soldier died. Berlijn said he appeared to have been killed by accident from a Dutch mortar and not by enemy fire. Three Dutch troops were injured.

Two Taliban commanders of the Chora attack were killed. Berlijn identified them as Mullah Mutalib and Mullah Ismael.

"We have delivered a heavy blow to the enemy," Berlijn said. "Many fighters have been killed, including two important Taliban leaders."

The heavy fighting in Chora and a deadly suicide attack on a convoy in nearby Tirin Kot a week ago killed two Dutch soldiers, bringing the number of dead among the country's 2,000-strong NATO force in southern Uruzgan province to eight since they were sent there nearly a year ago.

In an indication of the danger Dutch troops and local forces fighting the Taliban face, Berlijn said Dutch forces on Thursday night dismantled a factory for making so-called improvised explosive devices.

"We found various materials to make roadside bombs ... including detonators, explosives and a vehicle that was being transformed into a suicide bomb," Berlijn said. Troops detained 13 suspects at the factory, which was in Tirin Kot, close to the main Dutch base.

The Dutch mission is due to finish in August 2008 and lawmakers and the government will debate in coming weeks whether to extend their mandate.

The troops were sent last year after weeks of heated debate in parliament with the primary task of rebuilding the war-shattered country, but Berlijn conceded that work cannot always be carried out.

"The motto of our mission is, 'rebuild if we can, fight if we must,"' he said. "In recent days in Chora, we have fought."