Nine members of a family, including five women and three children, were killed in an American airstrike in central Afghanistan late Sunday, during a battle with militants, Afghan officials said Monday.
The American military acknowledged that it dropped two 2,000-pound bombs on a compound on Sunday night, but said that it could not confirm the casualties.
The strike occurred 12 hours after American forces in eastern Afghanistan fired on civilians following a suicide car bombing next to an American convoy. The American fire killed at least 10 people and wounded 25, Afghan officials said. In response, protests on Sunday blocked the main highway in the area.
On Sunday night, American forces at a small base in Tape Ahmed Beg, in Kapisa province, northeast of the capital, Kabul, came under rocket fire at 9 p.m., the U.S. military said in a statement. When two men with Kalashnikov rifles were spotted entering a compound, the Americans called an airstrike on the compound, which ended the engagement, it said.
“Coalition forces observed two men with AK-47s leaving the scene of the rocket attack and entering the compound,” Lt. Col. David Accetta, a military spokesman, said in the statement. “These men knowingly endangered civilians by retreating into a populated area while conducting attacks against coalition forces.”
“We did this in self-defense,” said Gen. Muhammad Eiwaz Masloom, the police chief of Kapisa province, whose men work beside Americans at the base. “The enemy of Afghanistan is trying to use different tactics to destroy the peace and stability in our area, especially in the districts of Tagab and Nejarab, and they have repeatedly attacked our bases.”
He said that members of the Islamic Party, which is led by the renegade mujahedeen commander Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, and Taliban supporters were active in the area.
But a local representative of the provincial council, Suraya Bahadur, who comes from Nejarab district, where the bombing happened, condemned it. “I condemned both the suicide attacks and the rocket attacks by the enemy of Afghanistan, and also I condemn these type of mistakes,” by American and NATO forces, she said. “We never want our civilian people to be killed.”
John Sifton, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, which is based in New York, also expressed concern about the level of force. “That is heavy firepower to respond to two men, even if they have Kalashnikovs,” he said in a telephone interview. “If that version of events bears up, it would strongly suggest that the attack was disproportionate.” Sifton said insurgents also regularly violate the rules of war by using force near civilian areas.
On Monday, President Hamid Karzai condemned the killing of the civilians in eastern Afghanistan on Sunday morning. He blamed the “enemies of Afghanistan” for the suicide bombing, which “caused the American forces to fire on civilian people and demonstrators that killed 10 people.” He ordered a government delegation to the scene to investigate with the American military.