ALI DAYA, Afghanistan (AFP) – An Afghan army colonel whose wife and children died in a US-led raid demanded action against the troops responsible Friday as President Hamid Karzai condemned the killings.
The operation in the eastern province of Khost around midnight Wednesday killed the wife of Afghan National Army artillery commander Awal Khan, two of his children and a brother.
The troops, who had been hunting a militant linked to radical Islamist groups, also shot a pregnant woman and killed her unborn baby, which had almost come to term, Khan and a provincial health official said. The woman survived the shooting.
The mounting civilian death toll from military operations is one of the main sources of tension between Afghan authorities and the US and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan.
"The (international) coalition has to stop this cruelty and brutal action," a grieving Khan told AFP in the village of Ali Daya a few kilometres (miles) south of Khost.
Khan said he was flown home from his base in the eastern province of Ghazni in a military helicopter Thursday after being told of the deaths.
"I want the coalition leaders to expose those behind this and punish them," Khan said, adding that the Afghan government should resign if it could not protect its people.
Khan lost his schoolteacher wife, a 17-year-old daughter named Nadia, a 15-year-old son, Aimal, and his brother, who worked for a government department. Another daughter was wounded.
After the shooting, the pregnant wife of Khan's cousin, who lived next door, went outside her home and was shot five times in the abdomen, the army officer said.
She was taken to Khost provincial hospital, where the nine-month-old foetus was removed, he said.
"She survived but her child died. The child was hit by bullets," said Khost province health director Abdul Majeed.
Police said troops stood on the roofs of houses surrounding that of a militant suspect, and appeared to be intruders to neighbouring residents, who came out with weapons and opened fire.
The US-led military initially said four people killed by troops were "armed militants."
But a statement Thursday said investigations "suggest that the people killed and wounded were not enemy combatants as previously reported."
US military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian told AFP Friday it had become clear that the four were not associated with the targeted militant, who was arrested.
"It was an unfortunate set of circumstances where they may have thought they were being robbed or attacked and came out, and the forces may have thought they were associated with the targeted individual," he said.
"There will undoubtedly be some financial assistance and other types of assistance," he added.
In a statement expressing sadness about the incident, Karzai said he had ordered his interior and defence ministries, the intelligence service and local government to investigate and present their findings to him Saturday.
Karzai had "for several years repeatedly asked the international military forces (to) carry out their counter-terrorism operations in ways that do not cause civilian casualties," it said.
The Khost provincial council, meanwhile, stopped work to protest against the military action.
International humanitarian organisation CARE said in a statement that the slain schoolteacher had been working at a school that it supports.
"CARE strongly condemns the action and demands that international military forces operating in Afghanistan are held accountable for their actions and avoid all attacks on innocent civilians in the country," it said.