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Mohammed, a grape picker at a farm in Kandahar, had both his legs amputated after a NATO air strike. His brother, Noorullhaq, visited him at the hospital.
Mohammed, a grape picker at a farm in Kandahar, had both his legs amputated after a NATO air strike. His brother, Noorullhaq, visited him at the hospital.

Airstrike killed farmers, Afghans say Add to ...

Helicopters from Kandahar Air Base dropped bombs on a suspected Taliban gathering in the lush Arghandab district north of Kandahar city, killing six men on the ground and severely wounded four others.

But the survivors of the strike say they are farm workers, not insurgents, and there were no Taliban in the vicinity when the bombs started falling from the sky.

"About 9:30 p.m., we were preparing to go to sleep. Suddenly the planes came and started bombing us," Mohammed, 23, said from his bed in the Mirwais Hospital.

Mohammed, who like many Afghans goes by one name, lost both of his legs in the air raid near the town of Nagahan.

Originally from Zhari, west of the city, he said he was working as a grape picker when the attack occurred.

He is a poor man who comes from a poor family that has no land of its own, he said, and the $60 a month he earned from packing grapes and shipping them to Pakistan was a good wage.

"But I can't do that now because I don't have any legs," said Mohammed, looking at the bandaged-wrapped stumps.

"I will be waiting now for my brothers to bring food to me."

Air raids, and the toll they exact on innocent citizens, have become major points of contention between the international forces in Afghanistan and the local population.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned the aerial assaults and earlier this month ordered an investigation into a German-ordered NATO strike on two stolen oil tankers that killed 30 civilians along with about 70 insurgents.

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, the head of NATO forces, has said air raids must be severely curtailed to win the support of the Afghan people - which he says will ultimately be the key to military success in this country.

But, for international forces, they are also an effective way of taking out groups of insurgents in rural areas without endangering their own troops.

In the Arghandab incident on Wednesday, as is so often the case, NATO and the local citizens disagree about who was targeted and how many of the victims were Taliban.

Colonel Wayne Shanks, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said the helicopter unleashed its bombs because it was under attack.

"From our reports, there were some helicopters flying by and they were getting fired on from the ground and they returned that fire," Col. Shanks said.

Imaging technology on the choppers was used to identify where the incoming fire originated, he said.

Mohammed said the men he was with in the vineyard had no guns.

When asked if the ISAF forces found weapons among the dead, Col. Shanks said: "Our forces did go back in to look at the area later that day and they reported enemy killed and materials removed."

He would not identify which country owned the helicopters, but Americans are operating in the area.

The Canadians, who do not conduct air strikes but can call on Americans to conduct them when necessary, said they were not involved in the Wednesday strike.

A local official from the Arghandab district, who did not want to be identified for fear of Taliban reprisal, said intelligence was received to indicate that insurgents had come into the vineyard and were eating grapes with the farm workers.

"We gave this to the coalition forces and the coalition forces sent planes to this place," the official said.

But Mohammed insists the intelligence was wrong.

When the ISAF soldiers arrived after the air raid, he said, "they didn't find weapons or anything, they saw only boxes of grapes."

Doctors and nurses treating the injured said they believe the men in their care are not insurgents because of the anger expressed by family members who have travelled from their home districts just outside Kandahar city to visit. Local people have a good idea about who is a Taliban and who is not, they said.

Mohammed said all of those killed or wounded were young men between the ages of 15 and 35.

The bombing was a particular shock because the vineyard was just 100 metres from a police station, and the police knew very well that there were no insurgents among the farm workers, he said. "Many times they were sitting with us, joking and eating grapes."

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