Afghan president demands coalition restraint

Afghan President Hamid Karzai urged restraint Monday from U.S.-led coalition forces when attacking militants after more than a dozen Afghan civilians and police were killed in two possible "friendly fire" incidents involving American, Canadian and British troops. As coalition commanders launched probes into both incidents, U.S. and Afghan forces kept up the pressure on insurgents in the volatile eastern Kunar province bordering Pakistan. Pakistani troops deployed on their side of the frontier to stop Taliban-led fighters fleeing through porous mountain passes.

Coalition and Afghan soldiers have been trying to blunt increased Taliban violence with a major operation involving more than 2,500 troops in Kunar, while also pounding a southern village where up to 60 Taliban militants were sheltering before a planned strike on their one-time stronghold, Kandahar city. But in the process, residents complained that seven villagers were killed Saturday as U.S. forces, backed by warplanes and artillery fire, targeted militants sheltering in a house and nearby cave in Kunar.

The Canadian-led military in Afghanistan's south also said Monday that police "reported casualties, some possibly caused by friendly forces" during Friday's onslaught against Taliban forces holed up in Sangisar, 40 kilometers (25 miles) southwest of Kandahar. Six police were killed along with 41 militants.

"We are investigating the incident and we will work jointly with the government of Afghanistan to determine the events that took place during this fight," said Canadian Brig. Gen. David Fraser. Canadian light armored vehicles and U.S. and British warplanes backed Afghan soldiers and police in the battle, said military spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy in Kandahar, 420 kilometers (260 miles) southwest of Kabul.

"It was a fluid battle space where people were moving all over and firing was brought to bare on enemy positions," Lundy told The Associated Press. "It is unclear how many of the six policemen died as a result of fratricide (friendly fire) and some may have occurred from Taliban fire."

Karzai, the Afghan president, ordered his own security authorities to probe the Kunar killings and demanded coalition forces take more care when targeting terrorists in residential areas. "President Karzai was angered by the deaths of these seven people and demands the (coalition) military use more restraint in future attacks against terrorists not to harm civilians," said a statement released from the Afghan leader's office.

This war-torn nation's government has previously complained about heavy-handed tactics by U.S.-led forces. The coalition accuses militants of often taking cover among civilians during fighting. U.S. soldiers went to Kunar on Monday to meet with locals to piece together how Saturday's killings occurred, a military spokesman said.

The military has said it does not know if the seven people were killed by American artillery or air-to-ground attacks, or if they were caught in the crossfire between U.S. soldiers and militants. But U.S. authorities have offered an apology to the families of those killed in the attack.

Kunar is a volatile province and suspected crossing point for Taliban and al-Qaida militants moving back and forth across the Pakistan border. Last week a missile apparently intended for a U.S. base in the province slammed into a boy's school and killed seven students. On the Pakistani side of the border, troops deployed to block any Taliban militants fleeing Kunar into Pakistan, an army official there said Monday.

Pakistani soldiers moved into several remote border villages, including Bajur, where a Jan. 13 U.S. missile strike purportedly targeting al-Qaida deputy Ayman al-Zawahri missed him but killed several senior al-Qaida figures, although their bodies weren't found. Thirteen locals also died, reports the AP.


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