Afghan president’s brother says he fears forces acted on false information, possibly given as part of 30-year family blood feud
At a time of unprecedented tension between the west and Hamid Karzai over the killing of civilians, Nato has accidentally shot dead one of the Afghan president’s own family members during a botched night raid.
Officials in the southern province of Kandahar said Haji Yar Mohammad Karzai, a second cousin of the president, was killed during an operation by US special forces in Karz, the ancestral Karzai home on the outskirts of Kandahar city.
In what appears to have been a major intelligence failure, the 63-year-old tribal elder was mistaken for the father of a Taliban commander.
This week the UN released figures showing the total number of civilians killed last year by the coalition and the Taliban reached an all-time high of 2,777, reflecting an escalation of violence by both sides.
Mahmoud Karzai, one of the president’s brothers, said he “smelled a very deep conspiracy” over the killing of Haji Yar Mohammad and said he feared Nato had been fed false information by someone from within the Karzai family.
In keeping with the Islamic tradition of burying people within 24 hours of death, senior tribal leaders, including president Karzai’s powerful half brother, Ahmed Wali Karzai, gathered in Karz for the funeral on Thursdayafternoon.
Karzai’s spokesman, Waheed Omar, said the president was informed of the death in the morning and ordered an immediate investigation by Afghan security forces.
“Like always with any other civilian casualty the president was saddened because he takes the loss of life extremely seriously,” he said.
Accounts of events from people in the village varied in small details, but all agreed that the operation happened sometime after midnight morning and that US soldiers were involved.
“There were many tanks that came and surrounded the house, but they did not attack any other building,” said Haji Padshah. “The Americans went in, brought out Haji Mohammad and shot him.”
Ahmadullah Nazak, chief of Dand district, where Karz is located, added that two of his bodyguards and a neighbour were arrested. “We don’t know why the operation was carried out in his village, whether he was [targeted] or somebody else,” he said.
morning Nato’s International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) initially claimed that its forces had killed the “father” of a Taliban commander who was wanted for his role in making car bombs.
In the lead story of Isaf’s daily “morning operational update” the coalition said it had successfully “captured a Taliban leader, killed one armed individual and detained several suspected insurgents”.
After ordering everyone to leave the building so they could search it someone spotted “an armed individual with an AK-47 in an adjacent building within the compound”.
The statement continued: “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.”
In the late afternoon, after news had broken that Karzai had been killed, the coalition published an “update” correcting its initial claim that the dead man was the father of an insurgent and saying an inquiry had been launched.
Aktar Mohammad, a neighbour of Karzai, said the old man had a gun to defend his property, like everyone else in the village.
Mahmoud Karzai, one of the president’s brothers, said the killing was a “shocking development” and said he could not understand why Nato forces would be hunting down insurgents in the town of Karz, which is in the relatively peaceful district of Dand. “Karz is our stronghold, there are absolutely no Taliban there and there never will be,” he said.
Despite the Karzai family’s grip on power for nearly 10 years, Karz remains a relatively poor and undeveloped village surrounded by farmland.
Mahmoud Karzai said he believed there was a “deep conspiracy” behind the killing harking back to a family feud during the jihad against the Soviet Union of the 1980s when Yar Mohammad killed one of his cousins, Khalilullah Karzai. The 30-year-old dispute was widely cited as the reason why Yar Mohammad’s 18-year-old son, Waheed, was shot dead in Karz in October 2009.
“If this is a deliberate set-up where the US military is being given false information to settle a personal vendetta then this is very serious,” Mahmoud Karzai said.
If true, embarrassment over a blood feud within Afghanistan’s most powerful family might have prompted the relatively subdued response by Karzai to the killing. Ahmed Wali Karzai said the killing was a mistake and that the dead man had been carrying a weapon because he was threatened by the Taliban. “These misfortunes happen every day,” he said.
Nonetheless, the murder of a relative in a country where family and tribe is all important could stoke recriminations over Nato blunders.
The timing of the incident is extremely unfortunate as Karzai has recently increased his criticism of the Nato-led coalition for killing civilians, particularly after the recent killing of nine young boys in the eastern province of Kunar who were mistaken for insurgents.
In November Karzai called on the coalition to stop the “kill and capture” night raids that Nato commanders say have been highly effective in disrupting insurgent networks.
Although figures released by the UN on Wednesday showed that in 2010 75% of civilian deaths were caused by insurgents, Karzai has tapped into public anger at the accidents of foreign troops, in part to confound the widespread view that he is a puppet of the US. He even went so far as to reject an apology issued by the US commander, David Petraeus after the killing of the boys in Kunar.