April 6th, 2010
01:04 PM ET

Man loses 5 family members in disputed NATO raid

KABUL, Afghanistan - A celebration of life turned to tears and blood on a cold February night when a NATO raid now under investigation robbed Mohammed Sabir of five family members.

Sabir, who lives in the small village of Khataba in eastern Afghanistan, said his family threw a party on February 12, welcoming his infant nephew to the world. Among the guests were his brothers Mohammad Daoud - the new baby's father and a criminal investigator from a nearby district - and Mohammad Zahir, a prosecutor, Sabir told CNN by telephone Tuesday.

The night was filled with music and laughter, he said, and the party lasted well into the early morning hours.

As the party began to wane, one of Sabir's brothers made a startling discovery.

"At around 3:30 a.m., my brother Daoud went outside of the house and noticed the main light was turned off by someone else," Sabir said.

Daoud returned to the house and saw that the family was surrounded, Sabir said.

"International forces were in our rooms, on our rooftops," Sabir said, referring to his family's compound. The forces opened fire, he said, wounding Daoud.

Zahir appealed to the forces to stop. "'Don't shoot! We are people of the government'" he said, Sabir recalled.

Some women family members held him back, refusing to let him outside. But they were powerless.

"The forces opened fire, he was killed on the spot, and all the women were shot too." Sabir said.

He said the international forces did not allow them to take the wounded to a hospital. He watched as his family members bled to death in the bitter night, he said. His wife, his sister, a niece and two brothers were dead.

He said the forces took him to a military base and detained him for three days. No further information was available regarding his detention.

When CNN asked NATO for comment regarding Sabir's allegations, it said only that the incident was under investigation.

Earlier this week, NATO acknowledged that its troops killed five Afghans in the nighttime raid in February, after initially saying the civilians may have been the victims of an "honor killing." It did not identify those killed.

There are conflicting accounts of the incident, and Lt. Col. Todd Breasseale, a NATO spokesman, said that Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who oversees all U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, has called for the review after receiving a briefing from Afghan officials in late March.

According to two U.S. military officials, in the March briefing, Afghan officials from the Interior Ministry told McChrystal that after the incident, they visited the compound where the Afghans were killed and found evidence of bloodstained walls being washed down and bullets being dug out.

McChrystal wants a thorough review to see why U.S. and Afghan accounts differ so greatly, according to one of the sources, a senior U.S. official familiar with the briefing.

One of Sabir's family members said he saw forces taking bullets out of the dead and wounded, Sabir told CNN.

The senior U.S. official said that by the time the Afghan investigators got to the compound, the people who lived there may have been attempting to clean it up.

NATO officials believe the U.S. and Afghan troops may have dug some bullets out of the wall for purposes of the initial investigation, which is a common practice, the official said

Sabir and local officials said they believe that the killings were an act of tribal rivalry and that the international forces were fed false information.

"We are people of the government, we have done nothing wrong," Sabir said, "We want justice for this case and those responsible for giving the wrong information to the international forces. They must be punished."

Shaista Ahadi, the deputy director of the provincial councilate in Gardez, agrees. "People who have agendas with other tribes give wrong information to these forces in order to kill their rivals," he said.

"This was a barbaric act," Ahadi said. "We demand strongly from these U.S. forces that they make sure this doesn't happen again - apologizing will not work any more - these attacks have to stop."

At the time of the February 12 incident, NATO said its troops went to a compound in the village of Khatabeh in Paktia province, believing it to be a militant hideout. A firefight ensued, and several insurgents died, NATO said at the time.

When soldiers entered the compound, they found the bodies of two men and two women who had been shot "execution-style," a senior U.S. military official said then.

"It has the earmarks of a traditional honor killing," the official said, adding that the women were found bound and gagged.

An honor killing is a slaying carried out by a family or community member against someone thought to have brought dishonor to them.

The senior U.S. military official said that at the time, it wasn't clear whether dishonor in the case stemmed from accusations of acts such as adultery or even cooperation with NATO forces.

But on Sunday, NATO made an about-face from its earlier claims.

"International forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent," NATO said in a statement. There was no explanation given for the cause of the third woman's death or why it wasn't mentioned previously.

The two armed men whom troops killed were not insurgents, NATO said.

"The force went to the compound based on reliable information in search of a Taliban insurgent and believed that the two men posed a threat to their personal safety," the NATO statement said. "We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families."

NATO said a lack of forensic evidence made it difficult to determine how or when the three women died. But it concluded that they were killed when troops fired at the men.

As for the initial report about the women being found bound and gagged, the NATO statement said it stemmed from a cultural misunderstanding.

"The statement noted the women had been bound and gagged, but this information was taken from an initial report by the international members of the joint force who were not familiar with Islamic burial customs," the
statement said, without elaborating.

NATO said it will apologize to the victims' family members and offer compensation in accordance with local customs.

Sabir said Afghan President Hamid Karzai has offered his family $2,000 for each of his dead family members. He refused to take it, he said.

- CNN's Barbara Starr and Taylor Gandossy contributed to this report.

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