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AFGHANISTAN: NATO Airstrike Kills 14 Afghans

by Abdul Waheed WafaNew York Times
November 29th, 2007

A NATO airstrike killed 14 laborers working for an Afghan road construction company that had been contracted by the United States Army Corps of Engineers to build a road in the mountainous province of Nuristan in eastern Afghanistan, officials said.

The strike occurred late Monday night in the Norgram district of Nuristan when the Afghan workers of Amerifa Road Construction Company were sleeping in tents after a day's work.

"Fourteen of our mechanics and laborers were killed as they were asleep in their tents," said Nurullah Jalali, the executive director of the construction company. "We just collected pieces of flesh from our tired workers and put them in 14 coffins."

The governor of Nuristan, Tamim Nuristani, said he could confirm that 13 workers had been "mistakenly" killed when NATO forces bombed the area based on what he said was an intelligence report that insurgents were infiltrating the area.

"All these victims are civilians, and they were from nearby provinces," Mr. Nuristani said.

A NATO spokesman said its forces had struck the area in an attack on what it believed were Taliban insurgents but could not confirm that the road workers had been killed.

Mr. Jalali said that in the year his company had worked in the region, his workers had not come across any militants. "We have not seen any evidence of insurgency in that specific area, and we don't know why and who attacked our laborers," he said.

The 37-mile road project is the first time in the history of Nuristan that roads are being built connecting its mountainous districts.

The project is financed by the United States military and the road has been under construction for a year through areas that the Afghan government barely controls.

A NATO spokesman confirmed that the aerial bombardment of the location was a mission by NATO's International Security Assistance Force and said that Taliban insurgents were supposed to be the target.

"I can't confirm that at this time, we, I.S.A.F., believe that we were able to successfully target a Taliban leader in that area and at that time," the spokesman, Maj. Charles Anthony, said. "As far as the allegation of civilian casualties goes, that is under investigation."

Civilian deaths have touched a nerve with Afghans after six years of American and NATO- led operations in Afghanistan and have become a major issue for the government of President Hamid Karzai, who has repeatedly pleaded with international forces to use extreme care while conducting operations.

The victims of the episode on Monday night were all Afghans who were working for $5 a day to build the road, Mr. Jalali said. His company has been contracted to build 273 miles of road in 10 provinces of Afghanistan, and the major contracts are with the American military.

Mr. Jalali said he thought the accident happened because the foreign military either lacked information or had incorrect information while conducting their operations.

"Our advice is for those who have air forces in Afghanistan to confirm their information first and then act, otherwise Afghanistan will go back to atrocities," he said.

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