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Afghan commission: US troops took fire first

Aug. 31, 2008 - 11:18AM   |   Last Updated: Aug. 31, 2008 - 11:18AM  |  
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KABUL, Afghanistan An Afghan army commander said that U.S. and Afghan troops were fired on first from a village where a government investigative commission says scores of civilians were killed, according to a report released Sunday.

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KABUL, Afghanistan An Afghan army commander said that U.S. and Afghan troops were fired on first from a village where a government investigative commission says scores of civilians were killed, according to a report released Sunday.

The chief of staff for the army's Herat corps told the head of the government's investigative commission that shots were fired early Aug. 22 from Azizabad at U.S. and Afghan troops. The troops had gone to the village on a raid.

But the report, released by the office of President Hamid Karzai, did not specify who fired the shots.

"When the ANA (Afghan army) and coalition troops got close to the village, firing started after the ANA unit stopped, and the coalition forces conducted the operation in the village," the report said.

There were no "foreign or internal Taliban" among the victims, the report said.

The commission found that 15 men, 15 women and 60 children were killed. That finding was backed by a preliminary U.N. report. The commission said eight houses were destroyed and seven damaged.

The U.S.-led coalition maintains that 25 militants and five civilians died. The U.S. says it is investigating.

The top NATO spokesman in Afghanistan, Brig. Gen. Richard Blanchette, told The Associated Press on Saturday that the U.S.-led coalition, Afghan government and U.N. would launch a probe into the raid.

A U.N. spokesman, Dan McNorton, said details of the investigation were still to be worked out.

In the latest violence, the U.S. coalition said it killed more than 220 militants during a six-day battle in the southern province of Helmand that ended Saturday. Coalition and Afghan forces were attacked repeatedly starting Monday, a statement said. Previously the coalition announced it had killed 104 militants during four days of fighting.

The statement from Karzai's office on Sunday did not mention any joint investigation, and no Afghan government officials have confirmed that the government would participate.

The U.N. mission said it had delivered aid to around 900 people affected by what it called "the recent tragedy" in Azizabad. It delivered three truck loads of food, cooking utensils, shelter materials and medicines to 150 families.

"I have asked all U.N. agencies working in Afghanistan to step up support to the local authorities as they work to help the survivors," the U.N. chief in Afghanistan, Kai Eide, said in a statement.

Ahmad Nader Nadery, the head of Afghanistan's Independent Human Rights Commission, has said that a villager named Reza, whose compound bore the brunt of the attack, had a private security company that worked for the U.S. military at nearby Shindand airport.

Villagers and officials have said the operation was based on faulty information provided by Reza's rival, Nader Tawakal. Attempts to locate Tawakal have failed. Aziz Ahmad Nadem, a member of parliament from Herat, has told the AP that Tawakal is now being protected by the U.S. military.

The report released Sunday did not appear to be the commission's final findings, but rather the thoughts of the chief of the delegation, Neyamatullah Shahrani, Afghanistan's minister of religious affairs.

The ANA chief of staff in Herat told the delegation that around 45 commandos the Afghan army's most elite soldiers went with the U.S. forces. But he said the Afghan units did not enter the village.

Evidence from all sides regarding the raid has been scant, with no conclusive photos or video emerging to shed light on what happened. But the claim of 90 civilian deaths by the Afghan government and U.N. has caused new friction between Karzai and his Western supporters.

Karzai has castigated Western military commanders over civilian deaths resulting from their raids. The Taliban and other insurgents use the deaths as leverage to turn Afghans away from the government, he says.

But claims of civilian deaths can be tricky. Relatives of Afghan victims are given condolence payments by Karzai's government and the U.S. military, providing an incentive to make false claims.

Afghan officials say U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by Tawakal. Reza, who was killed in the Aug. 22 operation, is Shah's brother.

Meanwhile, NATO said that a roadside blast in southern Afghanistan on Sunday killed one of its soldiers. NATO did not release the soldier's nationality or the exact location of the attack.

Southern Afghanistan is the center of the Taliban-led insurgency. More than 3,800 people mostly militants have died in insurgency-related violence in Afghanistan this year.

Associated Press reporter Amir Shah contributed to this report.

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