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Nine boys gunned down by NATO helicopters

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  • Nine boys gunned down by NATO helicopters

    KABUL: Nine boys collecting firewood to heat their homes in the eastern Afghanistan mountains were killed by NATO helicopter gunners who mistook them for insurgents, NATO said in a statement apologising for the mistake.

    President Hamid Karzai, in London for an official visit, condemned the attack ''in the strongest terms possible''.

    The alliance confirmed that nine civilians had been killed, but did not address the assertion by the Afghan government that the dead were children. A NATO statement said a communications error led to helicopter and artillery attacks on the wrong target.

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    The boys, who were aged nine to 15, were attacked on Tuesday in what amounted to one of the war's worst cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy survived.

    The NATO statement said the boys had been misidentified as the attackers of a NATO base earlier in the day, and included an unusual personal apology by the commander of the NATO forces in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus.

    News of the attack enraged Afghans and led to an anti-US demonstration in the village of Nanglam, where the boys were from.

    Waving white flags, they shouted: ''Death, death to America!'' and ''Death to Obama and his colleagues and associates!''

    The only survivor, Hemad, 11, said his mother had told him to go out with other boys to collect firewood because ''the weather is very cold now''.

    ''We were almost done collecting the wood when suddenly we saw the helicopters come,'' said Hemad. ''There were two of them. The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash. Then they flew back high up and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side.''

    The tree, Hemad said, saved his life by covering him so that he could not be seen by the helicopters, which, he said, ''shot the boys one after another''.

    General Petraeus pledged to investigate the attack and to take disciplinary action if appropriate.

    It was the third instance in two weeks in which the Afghan government has accused NATO of killing civilians.

    The attack on the boys occurred high in the mountains outside Nanglam in the Pech Valley of Kunar province. United States troops are preparing to close their bases in the valley in the next several weeks, in part because their presence has vexed the villagers, who would prefer to be left alone.

    A rocket attack on the base on Tuesday led to a helicopter search for the insurgents responsible, the NATO statement said.

    The helicopters ''returned fire at the assessed point of origin with indirect and aerial fire'', it said.

    Villagers - who heard the gunfire in the mountains and worried when the children did not return home - went to look for them.

    The boys had been out since the morning, local people said.

    ''As soon as we heard about the attack on the village's children, all the village men rushed to the mountains to find out what really happened,'' said Ashabuddin, a shopkeeper from Manogai, a nearby village, whose nephew Khalid was among those killed.

    ''Finally we found the dead bodies. Some of the dead bodies were really badly chopped up by the rockets. The head of a child was missing. Others were missing limbs.''

    The New York Times

    Nine boys gunned down by NATO helicopters

  • #2
    Tragic. This underscores the extreme difficulty in fighting wars against insurgents who wear no uniforms. I wonder what the boys did when the helos approached and whether their actions were any different than those typical of insurgents caught in the open.
    To be Truly ignorant, Man requires an Education - Plato


    • #3
      I too am unaware as to the typical reaction of insurgents in the open when helos appear, but if I were to hazard a guess, if a group of 10 or so insurgents were caught in the open with their weapons exposed (firewood mistaken for small arms?), I'd expect them to open fire on the helos. The odds clearly don't favor them, but if they were caught with their weapons out in the open, it seems like they would assume that they've been ID'd as combatants and would fire on the helos in response. But that's just my uninformed opinion.