KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — A relative of Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been killed by international forces, Karzai's brother and officials said Thursday, returning the issue of civilian casualties inflicted by foreign troops to centre stage.
The president's brother, Ahmad Wali Karzai, told AFP that a relative who he described as "our father's cousin" was shot dead near his home in the family's village in southern Kandahar province by the US-led NATO force overnight.
"It was a mistake," said Wali Karzai, a senior provincial politician who denies frequent accusations of involvement in the drugs trade.
"The forces conducted an operation, he was at his home, he came out and was shot. It was a mistake. What can you do about it?"
The president learned of the incident Thursday morning, according to his spokesman Waheed Omer, and was "extremely sad" at the news.
Karzai "once again calls on NATO forces to avoid killing civilians," the spokesman added.
A spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said the force was aware of the reports and was investigating.
ISAF had initially issued a statement saying that the man killed in the operation was the father of a Taliban leader responsible for distributing car bombs to insurgents in Kandahar city and coordinating weapons supplies from outside Afghanistan.
But it later said it was now "aware of conflicting reports about the identities of those involved and (had) initiated an inquiry to determine the facts."
The long-sensitive issue of civilian casualties caused by international troops has been high up the political agenda in Afghanistan recently.
Karzai rejected an apology from the US commander of foreign troops General David Petraeus over the deaths of nine children in an air strike last week.
The boys, who were collecting firewood, died in a NATO air raid targeting insurgents in the eastern province of Kunar.
US Defense Secretary Robert Gates also said he was sorry during a visit to the country Monday.
A UN report out Wednesday revealed that the deaths of Afghan civilians in the war had increased 15 percent to a record high last year, adding that insurgents were responsible for three-quarters of the killings.
The report recorded 2,777 civilian deaths last year, underscoring the level of violence in the country as foreign troops prepare to start handing control of security to Afghan forces in some areas from July ahead of a full transition due by 2014.
The police chief of the northern province of Kunduz was among at least three people killed in a suicide blast in Kunduz city Thursday, the regional police commander said.
Meanwhile in Kandahar city, around 200 people marched on the provincial governor's house bearing the dead bodies of three men whom they said were innocent civilians killed by Afghan forces.
However, local officials say the three were gunmen and that the operation was targeting insurgents.
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