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Villagers: NATO strikes killed 9 civilians



Published: Thu, October 19, 2006 @ 12:00 a.m.



ASHOGHO, Afghanistan (AP) -- Airstrikes by NATO helicopters hunting Taliban fighters ripped through three dried mud homes in southern Afghanistan as villagers slept early Wednesday. At least nine civilians were killed, including women and children, said residents and the provincial governor.

Shellshocked, angry villagers in Ashogho condemned the attack, which set back NATO's hopes of winning local support for their tough counterinsurgency campaign. The airstrikes came at about the same time a rocket struck a house in a village to the west, reportedly killing 13 people.

"I am not Taliban! We are not Taliban!" Gulab Shah shouted by the rubble of the ruined houses in Ashogho.

Kandahar provincial Gov. Asadullah Khalid said it appeared that no Taliban fighters were in the village at the time of the airstrikes, which left giant pieces of mud packed with straw scattered along Ashogho's narrow lane.

Bibi Farida, a 6-year-old whose red hair was matted with dirt, fidgeted and bit down on her scarf as she remembered the assault. Her voice was barely a whisper. "I cried. I just cried."

The 2 a.m. raid in the Zhari district of Kandahar province was only half a mile from the scene of September's Operation Medusa, one of the most ferocious battles between Western forces and insurgents since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.

NATO said that it regretted any civilian casualties.

Khalid, who traveled Wednesday to Ashogho, about 15 miles west of Kandahar city, said nine people were killed, including women and children, and 11 wounded. Residents said 13 were killed, including four women, and 15 wounded.

The international troops accuse insurgents of blending in with local populations while attacking foreign and Afghan soldiers. Many other civilians have been killed in Taliban attacks, including scores in recent suicide bombings.

Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.




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