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66 Dead in Afghanistan Fire Fight


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50 Taliban, 16 civilians dead after coalition forces attempt to capture leaders
16:28:32 EDT May 22, 2006

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (CP) - An attempt by coalition soldiers to move against a meeting of Taliban leaders in a village outside Kandahar erupted early Monday into a firefight that left at least 50 insurgents dead while killing at least 16 civilians and wounding 15 others, including several children and infants.

The battle, which began in the village of Azizi late Sunday night and raged on into Monday morning, was one of the largest in terms of combatant and civilian casualties since coalition forces arrived in Afghanistan in 2002. Five Taliban were also captured.

"It's one of the most significant single engagements that we've had in the recent past," said coalition spokesman Maj. Scott Lundy.

Although Canadian troops have been active in the area, they were not involved in this action, Lundy said.

"They were there earlier that day doing other things," said Lundy. "They would have been back in their compound."

Mirwais hospital in Kandahar, about 50 kilometres away, was an emotional and confused scene Monday afternoon, with families looking for their loved ones and wounded villagers trying to figure out what had happened.

Fida Mohammed said from his hospital bed that he was at home when he heard shooting and bombing. When he went outside to investigate, he was hurt.

"When I came out from my home there was an exchange of fire, but at once I was shot," said Mohammad, weeping.

"My whole family came out weeping and crying. When I came into my senses I was told they were wounded, too.

"My sons, my daughters, I don't know if they're alive."

"I don't remember anything very well. It was just like a dream."

"What did we do? We are innocent people."

The engagement began late Sunday night when a group of coalition soldiers from an undisclosed country moved against a group of Taliban leaders meeting to plan logistics. The plan was to capture them, said Lundy, but the soldiers ran into unexpectedly heavy resistance.

"A firefight ensued. About 20 Taliban were killed in that initial exchange," Lundy said.

The surviving insurgents then dispersed into nearby compounds and homes to continue the battle from residential rooftops and window wells.

"Coalition forces were under pressure and taking a lot of fire," said Lundy. "It was very intense."

The commander on the ground called for air strikes. Lundy wouldn't say which level of command approved the strike, although he did say it wasn't Canadian Brig.-Gen. David Fraser.

Rockets and bombs were delivered by helicopters and A-10 Warthog airplanes.

Villagers were just trying to escape when the bomb fell, said Mohammed Sadiq.

"When they saw the helicopter and when they heard firing they came out and most of them were hurt," he said.

Zurmina Bibi, cradling her wounded eight-month-old baby, said about 10 people were killed in her home, including three or four children.

"There were dead people everywhere," she said, crying.

Villagers pooled their cars to bring the wounded to hospital.

Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar province, met with many of the wounded at the hospital and gave them cash payments, in some cases folding the equivalent of about $500 Cdn into a barely conscious patient's hand.

"The coalition does all it can to minimize the chance of civilian casualties," said Lundy. "In this case, the Taliban, by moving into these homes and continuing the fight with coalition forces, gave the coalition no choice but to return fire."

Lundy admitted the deaths won't help attempts to bring the Afghan people onside with the coalition.

"People have been co-operating with us. We recognize that this particular engagement will have dampened the mood somewhat. We will work hard to rebuild our relationships."

He said the coalition is satisfied with the civilian casualty count it received from the governor's office and doesn't plan a further investigation of its own.

"As we pass through the area, we'll continue to pick up information, including additional information on casualties. (But) there's no investigation."

Azizi is in the Panjwai district, which has been the centre of heavy fighting for over a week. Last Wednesday, 40 Taliban were killed and another 40 captured in a battle which also cost the life of Capt. Nichola Goddard.

Recent fighting in the area is among the deadliest since the ouster of the Taliban in 2001 and comes despite the presence of more than 8,000 foreign troops in the province, among them some 2,200 Canadians.

Kandahar was the centre of the Taliban regime and the area, including Panjwai, has long been a Taliban hotbed.

But Lundy admitted the strength of the insurgent forces in the area has taken the coalition by surprise.

"The numbers we're seeing are somewhat higher than were initially expected," he said. "We have noted there have been sizeable forces where perhaps we thought there were smaller forces."

Still, Lundy maintained that in recent weeks of fighting coalition forces have severely reduced the insurgents' capability .

"Is there an endless stream of Taliban coming up to fight us? The answer is no," he said.

Since the beginning of May, estimates from coalition releases and reliable news reports suggest more than 200 Taliban have been killed in southern Afghanistan. More than 100 have been wounded and another 90 captured.

Lundi said Canadians will continue to patrol in the Panjwai area.

Azizi is also known by the name Hajiyan. It is made up of about 30-35 large mud-brick compounds, each housing an extended family with up to 50 members. The village has a mosque and one madrassa, where boys study. It has no electricity and relies on wells for water.

© The Canadian Press, 2006


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Not the version I read in todays paper. 

Times Colonist 23May
Jim Farrell
CanWest News Service

"Afghan villagers angry with Canada for US attack"

It describes the event as "According to news reports, American attack helicopters targeted a madrassa (religious school) where Taliban fighters were reputed to be holed up.  When many insurgents fled the building and took refuge in nearby residential compounds, the helicopters began to bomb".

Other key lines - "Even though no Canadian soldiers were involved in the assault, to villagers, all western soldiers are considered the same and many feel they must share the blame." "We cannot tell the difference between Canadian and American soldiers.  They are all Americans to us"

Although the article can claim to be based on factual events, it has left out key information and the key information left in was seperated so that an unclear picture of the event was created.  It does not expand on all facets of the event that occured, nor does it mention that there was a Taliban meeting in progress, instead making it sound as if the US indiscrimanently attacked a school with non-guided munitions, and not mentoning that the air strike was in support of coalition troops caught in a firefight with local indigineous forces.  I interpret the article as having been deliberately skewed to create an anti-US/anti-Afghan deployment opinion.

Further on CanWest News Service, aka CanWest Global Communications

"Since the 2000 acquisition of the major former Canadian newspaper holdings of Conrad Black's Hollinger International, including CanWest News Service, opposition has been expressed by some journalists, union spokespersons, politicians, and pundits about CanWest's enforcement of its corporate editorial positions. A 2001 decision to run regular uniform national editorials in all metropolitan dailies (except National Post), whereby local editorial boards could not take local positions on subjects of national editorials, ignited major national controversy and was subsequently withdrawn. Conflict over CanWest editorial control and policy has focused in particular on three issues:
The Liberal Party of Canada. Since Israel Asper's leadership of the Manitoba Liberal Party, the Asper family has been identified with Liberal politics and politicians. In July 2001, Southam national affairs columnist Lawrence Martin, was fired after a column of his critical of Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was not published. Russell Mills, longtime publisher of The Ottawa Citizen, was fired in June 2002 after the newspaper called on Chrétien to resign. However, as of 2006, at least one Asper family member (David Asper) is now publicly supporting the Conservatives. ([1])
(other two issues not relevant)



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There is always going to be a slant in some direction.  Was the death of the civillians worth the destruction of Taliban militants?  Hard to say.  As for the opinion of the Afghanistan people, why is anyone shocked?  I wonder if we wouldn't feel the same way if we were in their shoes.  We can only continue to do the job we have been doing and do our best to make the country as safe as possible for civillians, and as deadly as possible for terrorists.