KABUL, Afghanistan — A first cousin of Afghanistan’s president was killed Wednesday during a night raid by NATO and Afghan forces in which they detained the man’s son as a suspected Taliban commander, as well as several of the family’s bodyguards.
The case brought the sensitive issue of civilian casualties into the presidential palace and added to the already tense relationship between the Afghans and the Americans.
The raid occurred in the southern province of Kandahar, in the rural village of Karz, the Karzai clan’s ancestral home. The slain man was Yar Mohammed Karzai, 60, a lifelong resident of the village.
On Thursday evening, a NATO spokesman said the force was “aware of conflicting reports about the identities of those involved and has initiated an inquiry to determine the facts.”
The death was confirmed by the president’s half-brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, the chairman of Kandahar Province’s provincial council, who said the killing was a mistake.
He said the raid was a joint operation by the NATO force — the International Security Assistance Force — and the Afghan National Army that had gone awry. “The prime target was not actually him,” he said, “It was somebody else. But mistakenly he was killed, and ISAF apologized for that.”
President Hamid Karzai was informed of his cousin’s death this morning, said Waheed Omar, the presidential spokesman.
“This was the result of an irresponsible night raid and like any other case of civilian casualties, the president was very sorry to hear about it,” Mr. Omar said.
“We’ve called for a stop of the night raids, which often cause a loss of life and are against the culture and the Islamic values of the Afghan people. They can always cause unnecessary and irresponsible action such as what happened last night.”
This is the third serious case of civilian casualties in three weeks. Last week, NATO forces mistakenly killed nine boys gathering firewood in Kunar Province.
Gen. David H. Petraeus apologized to President Karzai in person for the deaths, but Mr. Karzai called his statement “insufficient.” He did accept an apology from the American defense secretary, Robert M. Gates, a day later.
A routine NATO statement on the events sent to reporters Thursday morning said that NATO troops and Afghan security forces “had captured a Taliban leader, killed one armed individual and detained several suspected insurgents during security operations in Kandahar City, Kandahar province, yesterday.”
The targeted Taliban leader, the statement said, was responsible for distributing car bombs to fighters in the greater Kandahar area and coordinated arms shipments to the Taliban.
“Security forces advanced to the targeted compound where they called for all occupants to exit the building peacefully before conducting searches,” the statement said. “A member observed an armed individual with an AK-47 in an adjacent building within the same compound. The security force assessed the male as an immediate threat to the security force, and engaged him. The individual killed was the father of the targeted individual.”
Interviews with witnesses of the Karz raid offered a different perspective.
According to Mohammed Karzai, a cousin who lives in Maryland and heard accounts from relatives who were in nearby houses at the time, “the armed individual” was Yar Mohammed. Two of the other “suspected insurgents” were the family’s bodyguards, assigned by Ahmed Wali Karzai to protect the family after one of Yar Mohammed’s sons was murdered. A member of another branch of the family was suspected in the killing.
According to tribal elders and relatives, the military forces landed at least two helicopters in the Karzai cousin’s compound. American Special Operations forces surrounded the house and did not allow anyone to leave or enter.
They went into the house and put a black bag over the head of the son, Farid, who is in his early 20s, said Mohammed Karzai. American forces handle almost all of the night raids.
The elder Karzai was “shot in the head” said Hajji Fazal Mohammad Khan, a tribal elder who lives in a neighboring village, Moshan. “His son, three bodyguards and two neighbors were detained, but later his son was set free and the five others are in ISAF detention,” Mr. Khan said.
“We don’t know why he was raided,” he added. “That area is free of Taliban and he was not involved in any activity. He was 60 years old. People are really angry about his death; he was a very respected man in his community.”
According to local Afghans, the compound is in the Dand District, which borders the district that includes Kandahar City. Maj. Michael Johnson, a NATO spokesman, said that because Karz is near the border of that district, there was confusion about which district it was in.
March 10, 2011
U.S. Night Raid Kills Karzai’s Cousin