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NATO troops kill relative of Afghan president

A nighttime raid targeting a suspected Taliban leader in Kandahar results in the death of a man said to be a cousin of President Hamid Karzai. The incident is expected to increase tensions over civilian casualties.

March 11, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times
  • A family photo released in 2009 shows Yar Mohammad Khan, then 62, a cousin of Afghan President Hamid Karzai, outside his home. NATO has said it is investigating his death in a nighttime raid.
A family photo released in 2009 shows Yar Mohammad Khan, then 62, a cousin…

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — — NATO troops shot and killed a relative of President Hamid Karzai in a nighttime raid in the Afghan leader's home province of Kandahar, family members said Thursday.

The incident is expected to exacerbate strained relations between Karzai and the Western military over civilian casualties. Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates this week offered a personal apology for the deaths l of nine boys in a helicopter strike by U.S. forces ast week. Karzai had earlier rejected an apology from U.S. Gen. David H. Petraeus, the top Western commander in Afghanistan, as insufficient.

The man killed in the Dand district of Kandahar province was identified by relatives and district officials as Yar Mohammad Khan, a cousin of Karzai who was in his 60s. His exact relationship to the Afghan leader was not immediately clear; many Afghans use "cousin" to refer to various members of their extended families.

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization force initially identified the slain man as the father of a suspected Taliban leader who was the target of the raid. It subsequently backed away from that statement but continued to refer to him as an "armed individual" who was shot because he was deemed a threat to troops.

"Coalition forces are aware of the conflicting reports about the identities of those involved, and have initiated an inquiry to determine the facts," NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement.

Western troops in Dand are under Canadian command, but there are significant numbers of Americans deployed there as well. Many raids like this one are carried out by special-operations forces that operate under a separate chain of command.

Karzai had no immediate public comment. The Reuters news agency quoted his spokesman, Waheed Omar, as saying the Afghan leader was saddened by the incident and had ordered an investigation.

The incident comes as a new United Nations report says civilian deaths in Afghanistan in 2010 rose by 15% from the previous year, to nearly 2,800. The report, issued Wednesday, blames insurgents for about three-quarters of those deaths, but urged all parties to exercise restraint to avoid harming civilians.

In public statements, Karzai has been highly critical of night raids by Western forces, saying they should be carried out only by Afghan police and soldiers. Rights groups have long criticized the raids because of the potential for confusion that could lead to accidental deaths.

Many Afghans, particularly in rural areas, keep weapons in their homes for self-defense and are likely to brandish them if strangers come to their family compounds at night.

Western commanders, however, describe targeted raids as a vital tool against the insurgency. Such strikes have resulted in the capture or deaths of nearly 3,000 Taliban suspects in the last three months alone, military officials say.

The Dand district chief, Hamdullah Nazek, said two of Khan's bodyguards and three neighbors had been detained by the Western troops.

The NATO force identified one of those captured as a Taliban leader who was responsible for "the distribution of vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices to fighters throughout Kandahar city." It characterized several other detainees as suspected insurgents.

laura.king@latimes.com

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