Afghan election campaign workers 'killed in air strike'

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Ten election campaign workers have been killed in an air strike by Nato-led forces in Afghanistan, officials say.

The governor of the northern province of Takhar, Abduljabar Taqwa, told the BBC that two people were also wounded in the attack in the Rostaq district.

President Hamid Karzai condemned the incident, saying that "pro-democracy people should be distinguished from those who fight against democracy".

A Nato spokesman said a "precision air strike" had hit a militant's vehicle.

The target was a senior member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) who regularly co-ordinated and conducted attacks with Taliban insurgents, the International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) said.

"Intelligence tracked the insurgents travelling in a sedan on a series of remote roads in Rostaq district. After careful planning to ensure no civilians were present, coalition aircraft conducted a precision air strike on one sedan and later followed with direct fire from an aerial platform.

"The vehicle was travelling as part of a six-car convoy, but no other vehicles were hit in the strike," the statement added.

The Isaf statement said "initial reflections" indicated that up to 12 insurgents had been killed or wounded, including a Taliban commander.

"Multiple passengers of the vehicle were positively identified carrying weapons," it added.

'Attacked'

Mr Taqwa told the BBC that the Rostaq district was peaceful and that there had been "not a single anti-government member in the area".

Start Quote

I believed they [US forces] were helping us so that we can campaign for the parliamentary election. Instead they attacked me”

End Quote Abdulawahid Khorasani Election candidate

"Without any co-ordination, without informing provisional authorities, they attacked, on their own, civilian people who were in a campaign convoy."

The governor said Abdulawahid Khorasani, a parliamentary candidate on his way to campaign in Rostaq with supporters and several armed guards, was among those hurt.

The district governor of Rostaq, Malim Hussian, told the BBC: "Around 0900 this morning, a convoy of around 100 cars belonging to Mr Khorasani left Khwaja Bahawideen for a village called Kay Wan.

"[A fighter] jet first dropped a bomb. After that there were two helicopters, which fired heavy machine-guns. As a result 10 people were killed, including a local commander called Aminullah," a former member of the Mujahideen who was not a member of the Taliban, he said.

"I want the international forces to use proper channels for intelligence. A Taliban commander or a member of the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan does not travel in a 100-vehicle convoy.''

Mr Khorasani, whose was injured in the strike, told the BBC that the victims were his family members and supporters involved in his campaign.

"I thought that the foreign troops came here to bring us security and democracy.

"I believed they were helping us so that we can campaign for the parliamentary election. Instead they attacked me," he said, speaking from his home in Kabul.

'Source of tension'

US Marine Corps Maj Gen David Garza said: "We're aware of the allegations that this strike caused civilian casualties and we'll do our best to get to the bottom of the accusations."

President of Afghanistan Hamid Karzai (R) shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates (L) during a joint press conference at the Presidential Palace September 2, 2010 in Kabul, Afghanistan The incident came only hours before US Defence Secretary Robert Gates arrived in Kabul

He added: "We're confident this strike hit only the targeted vehicle after days of tracking the occupants' activity."

President Karzai's office strongly condemned the strike.

"Air bombardments in the villages of Afghanistan will only end up killing civilians and will not be effective in the fight against terrorism," it said.

The BBC's Mark Dummett in Kabul says the air strike happened at an awkward time - hours before the arrival in the capital of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates.

He is due to hold talks with Mr Karzai, and the issue of civilian casualties is sure to be discussed - it is a major source of tension between the two countries.

Last September, a US air strike called in by German troops in neighbouring Kunduz province left at least 30 civilians dead.

No foreign troops are stationed in Takhar. There are, however, currently about 150,000 deployed throughout the rest of the country fighting the Taliban.

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