Rise in Civilian Deaths Afghan Farmers Killed in NATO Training Exercise

More and more Afghan civilians have been killed by NATO in recent months, as ISAF solidiers have upped their fight against the Taliban. Some of the latest victims, SPIEGEL has learned, were killed in a NATO training exercise.

ISAF soldiers on patrol in southern Afghanistan.

ISAF soldiers on patrol in southern Afghanistan.

More and more civilians are losing their lives in Afghanistan, as NATO troops have upped their fight against Taliban insurgents. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, at least 97 civilians have been killed in seven Afghan provinces this year alone during anti-terror operations.

Among the most recent victims are three Afghan farmers who were killed by NATO troops earlier this month while harvesting melons. They came under fire during a training exercise, SPIEGEL has learned, and not as previously claimed during an attack on Taliban forces.

The farmers -- and it is believed a child -- were killed on July 20 in the province of Paktika, south-east Afghanistan, by mortar grenades fired by NATO-led troops of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

According to NATO headquarters in Kabul, the munitions had been aimed at Taliban solidiers nearly 1,000 meters away who had slipped into Afghanistan across the unsecured border with Pakistan. However, according to information obtained by SPIEGEL, the civilians weren't killed in a firefight but in a NATO firing exercise designed to prepare the ISAF troops for an attack. NATO is still investigating the deaths.

NATO troops also killed two children in southern Afghanistan on Sunday evening after opening fire on a car they feared was about to attack their convoy. In a statement issued Monday, NATO said troops opened fire because the driver repeatedly ignored signals to keep a distance, AP reported. Afghan and UN officials have called on the international troops to do all they can to avoid killing civilians, as these deaths threaten to undermine support for Afghan's leader President Hamid Karzai and for the foreign forces based in the country.

Recent strikes against the Taliban have also netted some big successes: In the past few months ISAF troops have killed several top Taliban commanders, including Mullah Bismullah Akhund and Mullah Sheikh in Helmand province.

The ISAF commander, the American four star General David McKiernan, and his advisers have drawn up a list of suspected extremists. The targets on the list have then been assigned to regional commanders. Mark Laity, an ISAF spokesman in Kabul, said: "We want to kill the leaders of the Taliban, not its foot soldiers, who often are fighting for only a few dollars."



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