Coalition raid kills Afghan President Karzai's cousin

McClatchy NewspapersMarch 10, 2011 

KABUL, Afghanistan — A cousin of President Hamid Karzai was killed Thursday in southern Afghanistan during a raid by coalition forces, just after the president had said civilian casualties from the war were damaging relations with the United States.

Yar Mohammad, 60, was shot in the head inside his home in Karzai's home village, Karz, just outside Kandahar city, Afghan officials said. A statement from U.S.-led coalition forces described him as the father of a Taliban leader and said he'd been shot after he was seen with an AK-47 assault rifle. But that description was withdrawn later, and international forces said the episode was under investigation.

The shooting came the same day that coalition figures on civilian casualties, made public by Science magazine, showed that the foreign militaries operating in Afghanistan recorded just half the number of victims the United Nations listed in its annual report on deaths in the country, suggesting that the coalition isn't tracking the full human cost of the war.

Mohammad, a second cousin to Karzai, wasn't thought to be close to the president but the killing seemed likely to add to Karzai's rancor over the price that civilians are paying. Night raids, a controversial tactic that's been intensified since Army Gen. David Petraeus took command of International Security Assistance Force last year, claimed 80 civilian lives last year, according to the U.N.

As the Karzai family stronghold isn't known to have a Taliban presence, picking Karz for a night raid suggested an intelligence failure. A darker possibility also existed: that Mohammad was targeted by a false tip from a rival in a family feud.

Karzai family reaction was muted.

"It was an unfortunate accident. It was a mistake, not intentional," Ahmed Wali Karzai, one of the president's brothers, the head of the Kandahar provincial council, told McClatchy. "It was being in the wrong place at the wrong time."

Another brother of the president, Mahmoud Karzai, reportedly said he "smelled a very deep conspiracy."

Mohammad has been implicated in the killing 30 years ago of the father of Hashmat Karzai, another powerful member of the Karzai clan. In 2009, Yar Mohammad's son Waheed was killed in mysterious circumstances. Feuds in Afghanistan can go on for generations.

Hamdullah Nazik, the district governor of Dand, which includes Karz village, said the 2 a.m. raid was unprecedented for Karz. He said two of Mohammad's guards and three neighbors were detained.

"This kind of incident will increase the distance between the government and the people," Nazik said.

The figures released by Science magazine marked the first time the coalition had provided its detailed internal counts of civilian casualties, and they differed markedly from U.N. figures that were released Wednesday.

According to the coalition's data, international troops killed 202 Afghan civilians last year. The U.N. said coalition or Afghan forces had killed 440 civilians. The coalition's number didn't include deaths caused by Afghan forces, but that didn't account for most of the discrepancy.

Similarly, the coalition counted 1,178 civilians killed last year by insurgents, compared with 2,085 in the U.N. study.

"The difference in figures reflects a difference in methodology and access to information. We acknowledge that there are likely additional civilian casualties that we cannot track," said Lt. Col. John Dorrian, a spokesman for the coalition. "But the trends between all organizations are very similar: All point to the Taliban as causing the overwhelming majority of civilian casualties."

In an unrelated development, a suicide attack Thursday in the northern province of Kunduz killed the provincial police chief and at least two other police officers.

(Shah is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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