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Roadside Bomb Kills 14 Afghan Villagers

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By AMIR SHAH
The Associated Press
Friday, October 27, 2006; 11:13 AM

KABUL, Afghanistan -- A roadside blast ripped through a pickup truck in southern Afghanistan Friday, killing 14 villagers who were traveling to a provincial capital for holiday celebrations, an official said.

Friday's explosion went off near a village five miles west of Tirin Kot, the capital of Uruzgan. Capt. Andre Salloum, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said it was caused by an anti-tank mine, but it was not immediately clear if it was an old mine or newly planted by insurgents.

The victims, from the village of Safid Shar, had been traveling in the truck to Tirin Kot to celebrate the end of the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr, said Abdul Qayum Qayumi, the governor's spokesman.

In the southern city of Kandahar, meanwhile, mourners attended a prayer ceremony in memory of some of the several dozen civilians who Afghan officials say were killed during NATO operations on Tuesday in the nearby Panjwayi district.

President Hamid Karzai said "numbers" of civilians were killed but did not say how many. Karzai told a news conference in Kabul that three houses were destroyed, killing most of the people inside.

"Our sadness, our pain, is for the civilians," Karzai said.

He said an investigation being headed by the Defense Ministry would try to determine why civilians were killed.

"Did the terrorists use the houses of the people?" he asked. "No doubt in the past five years the terrorists, the enemy of Afghanistan, they hid in mosques and people's homes."

Bismallah Afghanmal, a provincial council member, has said that fighters fled into civilian homes, which were then attacked by NATO forces.

NATO said its initial reports found that 12 civilians were killed, but Afghan officials estimated the number of civilians killed at between 30 and 80, including many women and children. Death tolls in remote military action in Afghanistan are difficult to accurately pin down, and estimates often vary widely.

Maj. Luke Knittig, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said up to 70 militants may have been killed in three separate clashes in Panjwayi. He said NATO precisely targeted militants using artillery fire and airstrikes and regretted any civilian casualties.

But villagers and local government officials denounced NATO and blamed the government for lack of security.

The worst previous reported incident of civilian deaths from foreign military action in Afghanistan came in July 2002, when a U.S. airstrike in Uruzgan province killed 46 civilians and wounded 117, many of them celebrating at a wedding party.

Meanwhile, Germany's military suspended two soldiers from duty in connection with photos of troops posing with skulls in Afghanistan, Germany's Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung said Friday.

The pictures, reportedly taken in early 2003 and published in the German daily, Bild, this week, have provoked widespread expressions of disgust among German politicians and triggered a review of training for foreign deployments.

The photos also risk eroding Afghan public support for the NATO-led security force in Afghanistan. The Afghan government said Thursday it was "deeply saddened" over the pictures, but there have been no street protests.


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© 2006 The Associated Press

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