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Page last updated at 15:01 GMT, Sunday, 24 August 2008 16:01 UK

Afghans sacked over deadly strike

A boy stands next to the rubble of his house, following a US air strike in western Afghanistan
Afghans say many dwellings were destroyed in the attack

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sacked two senior military commanders over an air strike two days ago that he said killed 89 civilians.

The president had previously criticised US forces for "unilateral operations" over the strike in the Afghan west.

But he later appeared to suggest Afghan forces were partly to blame, ordering the removal of a general and a major.

The US originally said its strike had killed 30 militants. It is looking into the claims of many civilian deaths.

A statement from President Karzai's office said he had ordered "the immediate removal" of General Jalandar Shah Behnam, head of the army in western Afghanistan, and Major Abdul Jabar, for "neglecting their duties and concealing the facts".

Both were summoned to Kabul for further questioning.

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"In the tragic air strike and irresponsible and imprecise military operation in Azizabad village... more than 89 of our innocent countrymen, including women and children, were martyred," the statement said.

That was an increase on the death toll of 76 originally stated by the interior ministry.

The two Afghan officers were commanding forces in Herat province when the air strike occurred.

A US coalition spokeswoman, Rumi Nielson-Green, said the operation on Friday was led by the Afghan National Army, with support from the US-led coalition.

An Afghan general said the air strike was launched following intelligence that a Taleban commander, Mullah Siddiq, was presiding over a meeting of militants.

The US originally said 30 militants were killed, including Mullah Siddiq. Then it said five civilians - two women and three children connected to the militants - were among the dead.

Later, it said it was investigating the Afghan reports of mass casualties.

'No clear reason for strike'

Afghan tribal elders say a bomb was actually dropped on a large group of mourners at a funeral wake. Most of those dead were reported to be children.

"We went to the area and found out that the bombardment was very heavy. Lots of houses have been destroyed and more than 90 non-combatants including women, children and elders have died," said Afghanistan's religious affairs minister, Nematullah Shahrani, appointed by President Karzai to lead an inquiry into the incident.

A woman curses the US next to the rubble of her house, following a US air strike in western Afghanistan
Such attacks are undermining attempts to win over Afghans

He said US forces "claimed that Taleban were there. They must prove it."

"So far it is not clear for us why the coalition conducted the air strikes," he added.

He also criticised a lack of co-ordination between Afghan and coalition forces.

The BBC's Alastair Leithead in Kabul says the issue of civilian casualties has been a constant source of friction between Mr Karzai and international forces.

The deaths of innocent people not only affects families and tribes of those killed, but impacts on the whole counter-insurgency mission, which is to try to win people's support, not drive them against the government and the international presence in Afghanistan.


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