NATO rocket strike allegedly kills 9 Afghan civilians


North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces said today they were investigating reports that nine civilians were killed in a rocket strike aimed at insurgents in the volatile southern Afghan province of Helmand.

The incident came despite new efforts by international forces to avoid civilian casualties and make the Afghan population feel safe.

Dozens of angry villagers carried the bodies today through the streets of the provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, before they were dispersed by police firing guns in the air, witnesses said.

In the east, a U.S. service member was killed when insurgents attacked a patrol Wednesday afternoon, military officials said. They provided no further details.

According to a statement from the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, a rocket was fired from the ground shortly before 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at a group of individuals believed to be planting a bomb near Babaji village, outside the provincial capital.

“ISAF forces were not aware of any civilians in the vicinity at the time of the strike,” the statement said. “If any civilians were injured through our actions we deeply regret it.”

Residents, however, said the victims were civilians working in cornfields and included three children.

“I saw the bodies. They were civilians,” said Hafizullah, an elder of the community. Like many Afghans, he uses only one same.

He said the villagers had wanted to bring the bodies to the provincial governor’s office but were blocked by police.

Such incidents have fueled rising anger against international forces.

“I’m sure if the situation continues like this, one day everyone will declare holy war against the infidels,” said Anwar Khan, who heads the Helmand provincial council, raising the specter of Afghans turning against the U.S.-led coalition.

But Dawoud Ahmadi, a provincial government spokesman, said the victims were Taliban insurgents.

Zavis is a staff writer and Sharifi is a special correspondent.