Friday, February 20, 2009

OEF Summary, Feb. 20, 2009: Afghanistan Operations Leave 18 Militants Dead

Dispatches from the Front

Dispatches from the Front:

WASHINGTON, Feb. 20, 2009 -- Recent operations in Afghanistan left up to 18 militants dead and another one captured, and one of the operations has triggered an investigation into allegations of civilian casualties.

A coalition air strike near the Gozara district of Afghanistan’s Herat province Feb. 16 targeting a key insurgent commander left up to 15 of his suspected associates dead, officials said.

Coalition forces targeted Gholam Yahya Akbari through credible reports provided by Afghan civilians, officials said, adding that he is known to hide among the civilian populace to avoid detection. Coalition forces engaged his suspected hideout with a precision strike after he was reported entering a compound east of Herat.

A combined coalition and Afghan team, along with international observers, visited with key leaders in the Gozara district two days later as part of an investigation related to allegations that the strike killed innocent civilians.

Coalition forces and Afghan soldiers had inspected the site the day before, and they recovered weapons and ammunition while the Afghan army representatives conducted a meeting with local leaders.

“We take all reports of noncombatant casualties very seriously and investigate these claims with the assistance of our Afghan forces counterparts,” Army Lt. Col. Rick Helmer, a U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman, said.

“If, during the course of investigation, it is discovered that any noncombatants were killed or injured in the strike, we will take responsibility and make amends,” Helmer said. “However, it has been a past practice of the insurgents to surround themselves with women and children.”

In another recent operation, Afghan National Police, assisted by coalition forces, killed three militants Feb. 17 while searching a compound known for insurgent bomb-making in the Bakwa district of western Afghanistan’s Farah province.

The three militants were killed after attacking the combined forces with small-arms fire. Police discovered bomb-making materials and three AK-47 assault rifles in the compound, and took the targeted leader into custody. After the search, the combined force met with village elders to explain the purpose of the operation.

Also on Feb. 17, coalition forces detained a suspected militant in the Tagab district of Kapisa province during an operation designed to disrupt Taliban and foreign-fighter networks in eastern Afghanistan.

No shots were fired, and 11 women and 13 children were protected during the operation, officials said.

(Compiled from U.S. Forces Afghanistan news releases.)

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