US-led coalition airstrike hits Afghan house, killing family of 9

A coalition airstrike destroyed a mud-brick home, killing nine people from four generations of an Afghan family during a clash between Western troops and militants, Afghan officials and relatives said Monday. It was the second major incident in two days in which Western forces have killed civilians. On Sunday, US Marines fired on cars and pedestrians as they fled a suicide attack. Up to 10 Afghans died in that violence, and President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings. The Afghan leader has repeatedly pleaded for Western troops to show more restraint amid concern that civilian deaths shake domestic support for the foreign military involvement that the president needs to prop up his weak government - increasingly under threat from a resurgent Taliban. In the latest incident, militants late Sunday fired on a US base in Kapisa province, just north of Kabul. When fighter aircraft returned fire they hit a civilian home, killing four women, four children between the ages of 6 months and 5 years, and one elderly man, said Gulam Nabi, a relative of the victims. Sayad Mohammad Dawood Hashimmi, Kapisa deputy governor, confirmed the nine deaths, as did an Interior Ministry official in Kabul, who asked not to be identified because the ministry had not yet prepared a statement. A US military statement said coalition forces "dropped two 2,000-pound (900-kilogram) bombs" on the compound after a rocket was fired at the base and armed militants were seen moving into the compound. The US base in Kapisa is about 80 kilometers northeast of Kabul, the capital. "Coalition forces observed two men with AK-47s leaving the scene of the rocket attack and entering the compound," coalition spokesman Lt. Col. David Accetta said. "These men knowingly endangered civilians by retreating into a populated area while conducting attacks against coalition forces." An Associated Press reporter at the scene said a large mud home in a compound of five buildings was destroyed, leaving only bits of mud. Among those killed were Gulam Nabi's parents, his sister, his nephew, and four of the extended family's youngest children. The news of the airstrike came a day after wounded Afghans and witnesses said US Marines fired on civilians after a suicide bombing in eastern Nangahar province. The violence, that left up to 10 Afghans dead and 34 wounded, sparked angry anti-US demonstrations by hundreds of Afghan men. A US official called The AP on Monday to say that military authorities believe Sunday's suicide bombing was a "clearly planned, orchestrated attack" that included enemy fire on the convoy and a pre-planned demonstration. The official, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter, said authorities believed that criminal elements orchestrated the attack and demonstration and that it was related to ongoing Afghan efforts to eradicate the region's profitable opium poppy crop. He said there was "no doubt in the minds of Marines on the ground that they were being fired on." The official said Afghan casualties could have been caused by militants on the ground or by US gunfire. However, two senior provincial Afghan officials who also asked not to be named said they had found no evidence to corroborate the US military's claim that militants fired on the Americans. An AP reporter who spoke to more than a dozen witnesses could not find anyone who said they saw or heard incoming militant gunfire. Akhtyar Gul, who ran outside his home after the suicide bombing, said he saw American troops firing in many directions, and that some bullets struck the wall of his home. He said he saw a woman working in a nearby field struck by American gunfire. "There was nobody on the street, nobody on the road to fire on the Americans," said Gul. "The only firing that came toward us was from these American vehicles." The US official also questioned how a large demonstration could materialize so quickly, suggesting it had been planned. But witnesses on the ground said the demonstration occurred more than 5 kilometers (3 miles) west of the bombing and only after the US convoy had driven by shooting at civilian cars and pedestrians. "We didn't know about the suicide attack, because the attack was miles away from us," said Haji Gul Batikoti, 25. He said no one encouraged the Afghans to demonstrate. "Ten minutes after the vehicles left, all the angry people who were collecting the injured people and also carrying the dead bodies, they were shouting, they were very angry," he said.