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Civilian deaths reported after NATO airstrikes kill up to 90 in Afghanistan

NATO says it fired at militants who had hijacked two fuel tankers bound for Western troops. Afghan reports say scores of civilians were siphoning fuel from the trucks at the time.

September 05, 2009|M. Karim Faiez and Laura King

Canadian Brig. Gen. Eric Tremblay, the chief spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said that Friday's strike was "clearly directed at the insurgents" and said the alliance was "deeply concerned for the suffering that this action may have caused to our Afghan friends."

The Taliban claimed responsibility for the hijacking and blamed Western forces for the civilian deaths. News agencies quoted spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid as saying that the trucks were a fair target for the Taliban because they were supplying Western troops.

In Kabul, the Afghan capital, the U.N. mission issued a statement expressing concern about the reports of civilian casualties. The U.S. Embassy offered condolences to those killed and injured while emphasizing that it awaited the results of a joint investigation with Afghan officials.

President Hamid Karzai, who with challenger Abdullah Abdullah is awaiting election results, dispatched investigators and declared that targeting civilians "under no circumstances is acceptable." Karzai has for months been highly critical of Western battlefield practices that he says lead to far too many Afghan civilian deaths. That, together with problems like drug-fueled corruption in his government, have contributed to a cooling in his relations with the West.

Abdullah has accused Karzai of widespread and systematic vote-rigging. Many observers fear an explosion of violence if the vote tally, expected within days, puts the Afghan leader above the 50% mark, which he would need to win the Aug. 20 vote. With about 60% of the ballots counted, Karzai had about 47% of the vote.

The last two months have been the most lethal period of the 8-year conflict for Western troops. A French soldier was killed Friday and nine were injured in an explosion near Bagram air base, outside Kabul.

American and British forces also have been suffering heavy casualties, particularly in the south.

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laura.king@latimes.com

Faiez is a special correspondent.

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