dead afghan in trunk.
(photo credit: AP)
An overnight airstrike by international forces killed nine civilians, including at least three children, villagers said Thursday. Afghan authorities said they had no reports of civilian deaths.
The incident illustrates the confusion and blame that regularly result from night raids and airstrikes in Afghanistan and threaten US-led efforts to curb the Taliban.
In Kabul, the head of the UN mission warned that Afghanistan cannot count on international support indefinitely unless the government tackles corruption and bad governance.
Residents of Korkhashien village drove the bodies to the governor's office in the nearby provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, and AP footage and photos showed at least two children among the dead.
Helmand provincial spokesman Daoud Ahmadi confirmed an airstrike in Korkhashien, but said eight Taliban militants were killed while hiding out in a compound.
Sgt. Angela Eggman, a US spokeswoman for NATO forces, said she was aware of an incident in the area and it was being investigated.
Villager Abdul Rashin said the people were killed while harvesting corn in their fields.
The convoy of vans and station wagons from Korkhashien drove from the governor's office to a central market, where the villagers shouted blame at both President Hamid Karzai and his international allies.
"Death to Karzai! Death to the foreigners!" they yelled as passers-by looked through the car windows at the blanket-covered corpses. The villagers had propped open the rear doors of the cars to show off the bodies, and young boy on a bicycle stopped to peer in.
Though NATO forces have retooled their mission to focus on protecting the population - and have been issued new rules for airstrikes aimed at reducing civilian casualties - it is often difficult to distinguish militants from civilians in areas where the Taliban live among the people and often grew up in the villages they hide out in.
In eastern Khost province, several hundred people demonstrated Thursday against an overnight raid that killed a resident of Baramkhil village.
Walishah Hamat, head of the Mandozayi district government, said the dead man was innocent.
NATO forces said the man was a militant who was killed when Afghan and international forces were pursuing an insurgent leader who had been recruiting foreign fighters to the area.
More than eight years into the Afghan war, NATO forces are still struggling to fight off the Taliban movement and win the trust of the people they are defending.
NATO forces often struggle in the parallel propaganda war, even though Taliban attacks have killed many more civilians. Late Wednesday, a Taliban rocket killed five civilians when it hit a family's house, said Gov. Jamaldin Bader of Nuristan province.
A fraud-marred presidential election this summer has also weakened support for the Karzai government among its international allies.
Karzai was declared the winner of the presidential race this week after his main challenger, Abdullah Abdullah, withdrew from a runoff that he said could not be free and fair.
Kai Eide, the top UN official in Afghanistan, issued a stern warning to Karzai on Thursday, saying it was imperative that his new administration reform and crack down hard on corruption or risk losing the support of countries that have been providing Afghanistan with funds and with foreign troops to establish security.
"There is a belief among some that the international commitment to Afghanistan will continue whatever happens because of the strategic importance of Afghanistan," Eide said during a news conference in Kabul. "I would like to emphasize that that is not correct. It is the public opinion in donor countries and in troop-contributing countries that decides on the strength of that commitment."
Increasing violence in the country is also threatening the UN mission there. On Thursday, the world body said it was temporarily relocating more than half of its international staff while it looks for safer accommodation for them, following an attack last week on a guesthouse that left 5 staffers dead. Eide emphasized that the organization was not pulling out of the country.
In an initial speech welcoming his re-election, Karzai promised to create an inclusive government and banish the corruption that has undermined his administration. But he did not spell out how he would institute reforms, and he was flanked during his news conference by his two vice presidents - both former warlords widely believed to have looted Afghanistan for years.
Eide said: "We can't afford any longer a situation where warlords and power brokers play their own games. We have to have a political landscape here that draws the country in the same direction, which is in the direction of significant reform."
The Afghan Defense Ministry said 17 militants have been killed in three separate clashes in the last 24 hours.
Defense Ministry spokesman Zaher Ezimi said the Afghan Army carried out a joint operation with NATO troops in the northern province of Kunduz, killing 15 insurgents, including four foreign fighters from Uzbekistan. There were no injuries on the Afghan Army side, he said.
Separately in the Uzbeen Valley, about 60 kilometers (40 miles) northeast of Kabul, an AP reporter witnessed NATO troops bomb insurgent positions Thursday.
Officers from the French Foreign Legion unit stationed halfway up the valley said the clash appeared to have disrupted a large gathering of insurgent leaders in a village just inside the Taliban-controlled section of the valley.
Armed Taliban fighters, some with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, were spotted moving onto hilltops earlier, about an hour after the Legionnaires set up a checkpoint on the main dirt track leading up the strategic valley, which oversees the main road between Kabul and Pakistan via the Khyber Pass.
The troops took out the insurgent positions with mortars and some artillery shells.
Capt. Vincent, who only gave his first name because of French army field regulations, said there was intelligence indicating most of the men were insurgent leaders meeting in the nearby village of Sire Qal Eh, where a Taliban flag had been raised and a mortar position assembled. There were no reports of casualties.