of how killing created hatred, more violence.
The New York Times
KABUL, Afghanistan Nine boys collecting firewood
to heat their homes in the eastern Afghanistan mountains
were killed by NATO helicopter gunners who mistook them
for insurgents, according to a statement on Wednesday by
NATO, which apologized for the mistake.
The boys, who were 9 to 15 years old, were attacked on
Tuesday in what amounted to one of the wars worst
cases of mistaken killings by foreign-led forces. The
victims included two sets of brothers. A 10th boy
The NATO statement, which included an unusual personal
apology by the commander of the NATO forces in
Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, said the boys had
been misidentified as the attackers of a NATO base
earlier in the day. News of the attack enraged Afghans
and led to an anti-American demonstration on Wednesday in
the village of Nanglam, where the boys were from. The
only survivor, Hemad, 11, said his mother had told him to
go out with other boys to collect firewood because
the weather is very cold now.
We were almost done collecting the wood when
suddenly we saw the helicopters come, said Hemad,
who, like many Afghans, has only one name. There
were two of them. The helicopters hovered over us,
scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters.
Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they
hovered over us and started shooting. They fired a rocket
which landed on a tree. The tree branches fell over me
and shrapnel hit my right hand and my side.
The tree, Hemad said, saved his life by covering him so
that he could not be seen by the helicopters, which, he
said, shot the boys one after another.
General Petraeus pledged to investigate the attack and to
take disciplinary action if appropriate.
We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize
to the members of the Afghan government, the people of
Afghanistan and, most importantly, the surviving family
members of those killed by our actions, he said.
These deaths should have never happened.
It was the third instance in two weeks in which the
Afghan government has accused NATO of killing civilians.
NATO strongly disputes one of those reports, but another
the killing of an Afghan Army soldier and his
family in Nangarhar Province on Feb. 20 was also
described as an accident.
The attack on the boys occurred high in the mountains
outside Nanglam in the Pech Valley of Kunar Province.
American troops are preparing to close their bases in the
valley in the next several weeks, in part because their
presence has vexed the villagers, who would prefer to be
left alone. The area is poor, and the only major road was
built to service Forward Operating Base Blessing,
according to local residents.
A rocket attack on the base on Tuesday led to a
helicopter search for the insurgents responsible, the
NATO statement said. The base is surrounded by mountains
and is the frequent target of Taliban fighters, who shoot
down on it from the rocky heights.
The helicopters returned fire at the assessed point
of origin with indirect and aerial fire, the NATO
statement said. Regrettably there appears to have
been an error in the handoff between identifying the
location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters
that carried out subsequent operations.
Villagers who heard the gunfire in the mountains
and worried when the children did not return home
went to look for them. The boys had been out since the
morning, local people said.
As soon as we heard about the attack on the
villages children, all the village men rushed to
the mountains to find out what really happened,
said Ashabuddin, a shopkeeper from Manogai, a nearby
village, whose nephew Khalid was among those killed.
Finally we found the dead bodies. Some of the dead
bodies were really badly chopped up by the rockets,
he said. The head of a child was missing. Others
were missing limbs.
We tried to find the body pieces and put them
together. As it was getting late, we brought down the
bodies in a rope bed. We buried them in the
villages cemetery, Ashabuddin added.
The children were all from poor families; otherwise
no one would send their sons up to the mountains despite
the known threats from both insurgents and
Khalid, 14, was the only male in the family, Ashabuddin
said. He was studying in sixth grade of the
orphanage school and working because his father died four
years ago due to a long-term sickness. His father was a
day laborer. He has 13 sisters and two mothers. He was
the sole breadwinner of the family. I dont know
what would happen to his family to his sisters and
mothers. They are all female and poor.
President Hamid Karzai, who was in London for an official
visit, condemned the attack in the strongest terms
Calling it ruthless, he questioned whether
the Western goals of combating terrorism and securing
Afghanistan could be achieved if civilians continued to
More than 200 people gathered in Nanglam on Wednesday to
protest the boys deaths, witnesses said. Waving
white flags, they shouted Death, death to
America! and Death to Obama and his
colleagues and associates!