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Afghan President Orders Probe Into U.S.-Led Air Strike

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (file photo)

KABUL -- Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into a U.S.-led coalition air strike that local officials say killed 15 civilians but the U.S. military says killed only armed Taliban militants.

The issue of civilian casualties is an emotive one in Afghanistan, feeding a common perception that international forces do not take enough care when launching air strikes, and undermining support for their continued presence in the country.

Nearly 700 Afghan civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants.

Coalition ground troops called in support from attack helicopters after militants fired at an outpost in the northeastern province of Nuristan on July 4, according to the U.S. military.

"The helicopter crews coordinated with ground forces to positively identify the militants' vehicles. The attack helicopters then destroyed the two vehicles, killing more than a dozen militants," it said in a statement on July 5.

But the governor of Nuristan said 15 civilians were killed and seven wounded in the attack in the Waigal district of Nuristan and none of the victims were militants.

Karzai ordered the Defense and Interior ministries and a body that oversees local government to investigate, a statement from the presidential palace said on July 6.

"President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly emphasized the [need for] coordination of military operations and has been deeply saddened since learning about this incident," the statement said.

Both the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and U.S.-led coalition forces say they take the utmost care to avoid killing civilians and ISAF tightened procedures for launching air strikes a year ago, which has had some effect.

ISAF accuses the Taliban of launching attacks from built-up areas in order to deliberately court civilian deaths.

But with the U.S. Pentagon warning last week that the Taliban are likely to intensify the scope and pace of their attacks, more civilians are certain to be caught in the crossfire.

Suicide Attack Injures Schoolgirls

A suicide car bomber targeting German police trainers wounded three schoolgirls in the relatively peaceful north of Afghanistan on July 6, the deputy provincial police chief said.

The bomber rammed a Toyota saloon car into a German armored vehicle 15 kilometers west of the city of Konduz, wounding the three passing schoolgirls, he said.

Three German police trainers and an Afghan interpreter inside the armored vehicle suffered only minor wounds, a spokesman for the European Union police training mission said.

As foreign troops get better at protecting themselves from suicide bombs, most of the victims are ordinary Afghans. The Taliban killed some 200 civilians in suicide bombs last year.

The U.S.-led coalition launched more air strikes on July 6, reportedly killing several militants in Nangarhar province in the east.

"Intelligence revealed a large group of militants operating in Deh Bala district. Coalition forces identified the militants in a mountainous region and used precision air strikes to kill them," a U.S. military statement said.