Kabul: An American jetfighter blasted two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan on Friday, killing up to 90 people, including insurgents and dozens of civilians who had rushed to the scene to collect fuel, Afghan officials said.
Police Chief Gulam Mohyuddin said militants seized the two trucks around midnight near the village of Omar Khel in Kunduz province. He said the alliance launched an airstrike as the Taliban fighters had stopped the trucks at a river crossing.
Germany, which called in the 2:30 a.m. airstrike, said 50 fighters were killed and that no civilians were in the area at the time. Later, however, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged some civilians may have died.
"Certainly, a number of Taliban were killed and there is
a possibility of civilian casualties as well," Rasmussen said.
Kunduz Governor Mohammad Omar also said that 90 people were dead — but did not give a breakdown.
He said the dead included the senior Taliban commander for the district, Abdur Rahman, and four Chechen fighters.
"Abudur Rahman is a very dangerous man," the Governor said.
German officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity as a matter of policy, said the strike took place 40 minutes after the commanders requested it and an unmanned surveillance aircraft determined no civilians were in the area. It was unclear whether civilians began to assemble during that time.
Taliban spokesman Zabiullah Mujahid said the hijacked trucks were headed from Tajikistan to supply NATO forces in Kabul. When the hijackers tried to drive them across the Kunduz River, the vehicles became stuck in the mud and the insurgents opened valves to release fuel and lighten the loads, he said.
Abdul Moman Omar Khel, member of the Kunduz provincial council and a native of the village where the airstrike happened, said about 500 people from surrounding communities swarmed the trucks after the Taliban invited them to help themselves to the fuel.
A senior Afghan police officer, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the information, said the dead included about 40 civilians.
Civilian deaths caused by US and NATO military operations
have long been a source of friction between President Hamid
Karzai and the international force.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has sharply criticized the U.S.-led command for allegedly using excessive force in the war against the Taliban, alienating the civilian population. Karzai repeated those charges in last month`s still-unresolved presidential election and on Friday announced he was creating a panel to investigate the attack.
"Targeting civilians is unacceptable for us," he said.
concern over death of civilians, the United Nations today called for a probe into
the incident and said it is sending an investigating team to
look into the matter.
Peter Galbraith, the Deputy UN Special Representative
in Afghanistan, said in a statement that he was very concerned
by the reports of the civilian casualties in the air strike,
which took place in the Aliabad district of Kunduz province.
"As an immediate priority, everything possible must be
done to ensure that people wounded by this attack are properly
cared for, and that families of the deceased are getting all
the help they need," he said.
"Steps must also be taken to examine what happened and
why an air strike was employed in circumstances where it was
hard to determine with certainty that civilians were not
present," he said.
"UNAMA (the UN mission in Afghanistan)is dispatching a
team to look into the situation," he added.