Up to 90 killed as NATO hits Afghan fuel trucks

5th September 2009, Comments 0 comments

The overnight bombing revived controversy about civilian casualties in Western military operations, a frequent source of friction with the government and Afghan people.

Kunduz -- A NATO airstrike Friday destroyed two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in Afghanistan, igniting a fireball that officials said killed between 50 and 90 people -- mostly insurgents.

The overnight bombing in increasingly volatile northern Kunduz province revived controversy about civilian casualties in Western military operations, a frequent source of friction with the government and Afghan people.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the United Nations and Afghan government said they were investigating reports of civilian casualties as accounts emerged of horrific injuries.

"The initial reports we have show that 50 to 55 armed Taliban were killed and more than 10 wounded," interior ministry spokesman Zemarai Bashary said.  "We also have reports some civilians were killed. We are investigating."

Police said a 12-year-old child was among the wounded, 56 Taliban killed and 12 more wounded when ISAF troops attacked fuel tankers hijacked hours earlier by insurgents en route from Tajikistan to Kabul.

"It was an aerial rocket attack by ISAF. All the casualties are Taliban," said Abdul Rezaq Yaqobi, Kunduz police chief.

Mahbubullah Sayedi, a spokesman for the local government, told AFP that around 90 people were killed -- most of them Taliban.

"A small number of the casualties are local civilians, including a few children who had come to take free fuel," Sayedi said.

Civilian casualties during Western military operations are hugely sensitive and a major source of tension with the government of President Hamid Karzai, who is ahead in the vote count after fraud-tainted elections.

In nearby Yaqubi village, hundreds of people gathered to bury 18 bodies, some of which were burnt so badly the faces were unrecognisable, an AFP reporter said.

"People went to get fuel. The Taliban were distributing free fuel. At this time they were bombed. Eighteen people were killed from our village," said Azizullah, 45, who like many Afghans goes by one name, at the funeral.

Wounded people with extensive burns crowded a hospital in Kunduz, the capital of the province of the same name, which lies on a main supply line for the more than 100,000 foreign troops based in Afghanistan.

An AFP reporter said around eight were in terrible condition -- their skin burnt black and peeling off to expose raw red muscle. Others were silent in agony with incinerated clothes stuck to their flesh.

The United Nations called on NATO to investigate the bombing thoroughly and said it was dispatching its own investigation team, expressing concern about reports of civilian casualties.
"As an immediate priority, everything possible must be done to ensure that people wounded by this attack are being properly cared for and that families of the deceased are getting all the help they need," said envoy Peter Galbraith.

The German army, whose soldiers are based in Kunduz under NATO command, said the airstrike killed 56 Taliban after they attacked a supply convoy.

"We are fairly certain that they were all insurgents, but we are not 100 percent sure," a German army spokesman told AFP.

ISAF said two fuel trucks were stolen at about 10:00 pm Thursday (1730 GMT) and were spotted several hours later on the banks of the Kunduz River.

"After assessing that only insurgents were in the area, the local ISAF commander ordered an airstrike which destroyed the fuel trucks and a large number of insurgents were killed and injured," a spokeswoman said. "ISAF has received information that civilians were killed and injured in this attack. ISAF forces in conjunction with Afghan officials are conducting investigations.”

Witness Mohammad Daud, 32, said villagers rushed to one of the trucks when it got stuck in the river to take free fuel at the Taliban's invitation.

"Everyone around the fuel tanker died. Nobody was in one piece. Hands, legs and body parts were scattered everywhere. Those who were away from the fuel tanker were badly burnt," he told AFP in hospital.

The incident came four days after the US and NATO commander in Afghanistan submitted a review into the nearly eight-year war, calling for a revised strategy to defeat the Taliban and reverse the country's "serious" situation.

General Stanley McChrystal's predecessor, General David McKiernan, was removed after airstrikes killed dozens of civilians in western Afghanistan.

Ameen Salarzai/AFP/Expatica

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