Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Afghanistan attack kills 4 U.S. troops

Afghanistan attack kills 4 U.S. troops: "KABUL — NATO forces acknowledged for the first time Tuesday that Afghan civilians were killed in a German-ordered airstrike last week on two stolen fuel tankers, as the alliance’s top commander in the country appointed a team to investigate.Meanwhile, four American troops were killed in ‘a complex attack’ in eastern Afghanistan’s Kunar province, said Capt. Elizabeth Mathias, a U.S. military spokeswoman. S

he did not give further details.Fifty-one U.S. troops died in Afghanistan in August, making it the deadliest month for American forces in the deadliest year since the U.S.-led invasion in late 2001. The latest deaths bring to 11 the number of U.S. service members killed so far in September.As fighting has intensified, debates about how international forces conduct themselves have also become more heated.German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Tuesday that her government won’t accept ‘premature judgments’ about the attack in Kunar.

Germany’s military has been criticized for calling in a U.S. jet on Friday to bomb two hijacked tanker trucks in Kunduz province and for initially insisting that it appeared only militants were killed. Local officials have said civilians were among more than 50 killed, but there have been conflicting claims over how many.A statement from the NATO-led force said Tuesday that commanders originally believed the tankers were surrounded only by Taliban insurgents, but that a subsequent review showed ‘civilians also were killed and injured in the strike.’

Previously, officials had said only that civilians may have been wounded.The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. Stanley McChrystal, appointed a Canadian major general to lead an investigation. A U.S. Air Force officer and a German officer are also on the investigating team. The makeup of the investigative team is important because the incident involved German and U.S. forces.Taliban militants have used attacks such as the one Friday in northern Kunduz province to rally support among villagers angry at international forces.McChrystal has said military officials could see about 120 people around the tankers when the airstrikes were launched.

German officials have said they believed all were militants, but the decision to launch airstrikes appeared to run counter to directives from McChrystal to draw back from conflicts rather than risk civilian deaths.Merkel acknowledged the possibility that civilians were harmed and that ‘we will not gloss over anything’ when results of the investigation are in. But she told parliament that the identities of those hit were still unclear because of contradictory reports.‘We will not accept premature judgments,’ she said. ‘I say this very clearly after what I have experienced in the last few days: I will not tolerate that from whoever it may be, at home as well as abroad.’

Just weeks before national elections, she delivered a robust defense of a military mission that is unpopular at home.The NATO announcement came the same day a Taliban car bomber attacked an international convoy near the entrance to the military airport in Kabul. The chief of Kabul’s criminal investigation department, Abdul Ghafar Sayadzada, said three Afghan civilians were killed and six wounded.

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the blast, the third major attack by insurgents in the capital in four weeks.

No foreign forces were killed in the attack, Mathias said. The Belgian Defense Ministry said one Belgian soldier was seriously wounded and that three others were lightly wounded.Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said a suicide car bomber rammed into a NATO convoy and destroyed three Land Cruisers.The early-morning blast rattled windows more than a mile away and sent flames shooting out of burning vehicles.A witness said he saw the car ram into a line of SUVs.‘I saw three or four Land Cruisers for the foreigners just in front of the gate ... then there was a car, and it hit them then blew up,’ said Humayun, who, like many Afghans, goes by one name and who watched the attack from his nearby shop.The military airport used by U.S. and other international forces is right next to Kabul’s civilian airport, but they have separate entrances.Insurgent attacks, often deadly, occur in Kabul despite tight security and blast walls.

Suicide bombers have hit government buildings and gunmen have overrun ministries.In the run-up to the Aug. 20 presidential election, a suicide attack near the main gate of NATO headquarters killed seven people and injured scores and gunmen briefly took over a bank in the city.

Also, insurgents fired on the presidential palace on the same day that they unleashed a suicide car bombers on a NATO convoy.The violence in the capital comes amid growing uncertainty over the vote. A U.N.-backed commission investigating the vote said Tuesday it had found ‘clear and convincing evidence of fraud’ and that it was ordering a recount of questionable polling stations.Widespread allegations of ballot-box stuffing and suspicious tallies are threatening the legitimacy of the election as the country awaits final results. More than 720 major fraud charges have been lodged with the Electoral Complaints Commission."

(Via Air Force Times - News.)

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