KABUL: A rocket attack on an Afghan village killed at least 45 civilians on Monday, as leaked documents laid bare the civilian toll of the US-led war.
“Our understanding is yes, there was a rocket launched, which hit a civilian house where many people sought refuge. Around 45 to 50 people were killed,” informed President Hamid Karzai’s spokesperson Waheed Omar, adding that the dead included women and children.
When asked if the attack was carried out by Nato forces, Omar said: “We will need to wait until we have a final report before we have the source as to what happened and who did it.”
Karzai ordered the National Security Council to investigate the incident, Sediq Sediqqi, head of media relations at the presidency, said earlier.
Reports surfaced on Saturday that a helicopter gunship fired on villagers who had been told by insurgents to leave their homes as a firefight with troops from Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) was imminent.
According to witness accounts, men, women and children fled to Regey village and were fired on from helicopter gunships as they took cover.
Abdul Ghafar, 45 said that he lost two daughters, a son and two sisters in the attack. He added that six other families fled to Regey, about 500 metres from their village of Ishaqzai, after being warned about the imminent battle. Men and women took shelter in separate compounds, he said, ahead of an expected firefight between Taliban and Nato troops around 4:30 pm.
“Helicopters started firing on the compound killing almost everyone inside. Eight children were wounded and around 40 to 50 others killed,” he said.
Isaf spokesman Colonel Wayne Shanks denied civilian deaths by claiming that the location of the reported deaths was several kilometres away from where they had engaged enemy fighters, and all rounds shot at the enemy have been accounted for.
Karzai was “deeply saddened” at the loss of life and ordered the national security adviser to conduct an immediate investigation, his office said.
It should be noted that the leaked documents carried by the website, ‘Wikileaks’ on Sunday, pointed to under-reporting of civilian casualties, which Omar said were a cause of concern for the Afghan government.
“We have continuously stated that the Afghan government and Afghan people were upset about civilian casualties,” he told reporters, adding that Karzai had found nothing new in the leaked documents.
The White House condemned the leaks, saying the information could endanger US lives.
The Pentagon files and field reports spanning the period from January 2004 to December 2009 detail hundreds of unreported civilian deaths caused by Nato and Taliban attacks, according to Britain’s Guardian newspaper.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 27th, 2010.