Afghan girl ‘killed by ricocheted NATO bullet’

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AFP) — A toddler died when she was struck by a gunshot from a NATO soldier while troops killed four dozen Taliban in two days of battles in Afghanistan’s top opium-growing area, officials said Saturday.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said it deeply regretted the death of the child in the southern province of Helmand on Friday.

Helmand provincial police chief Mohammad Hussain Andiwal said the girl was two years old and the incident had happened outside her home.

An ISAF soldier fired a single shot to stop a vehicle from coming too close to a military patrol, the force said in a statement. The bullet allegedly ricocheted and hit the child although the incident was being investigated, it said.

“Sometime later, a family brought a child suffering from a gunshot wound to the head to an ISAF base for medical attention. Unfortunately, the child died,” it said.

Several civilians have been killed in Afghanistan this year by warning shots fired to stop people approaching international security force checkpoints and patrols.

Troops are the main target of Taliban suicide bombs, often delivered by car or fixed to a person who launches himself at the soldiers.

The separate US-led coalition, which works alongside ISAF and the Afghan security forces, said meanwhile it had killed around four dozen Taliban fighters in two straight days of fighting elsewhere in Helmand.

Nearly three dozen were killed Saturday and more than a dozen on Friday in fighting in the Musa Qala area, an insurgent hotbed.

Both battles were sparked by ambushes which Afghan and coalition soldiers beat back with return fire and help from war planes, the force said.

The fighting was “part of a larger operation to disrupt terrorist activities in the Helmand province,” it said in a statement.

Helmand produces most of Afghanistan’s opium which the United Nations says accounts for up 93 percent of world supply.

The top US commander in Afghanistan, General Dan McNeill, said this week he estimated up to 40 percent of the Taliban’s income comes from opium, the raw ingredient of heroin.

The Taliban have been in control of the Musa Qala district centre for months and officials have said the small town has become a headquarters for rebels who are assisted by foreign “jihadists” in their bid to topple the US-backed Kabul government.

The Taliban were in power between 1996 and 2001 when they were removed by the coalition for not surrendering their Al-Qaeda allies following the September 11 attacks.

They are leading a campaign of daily attacks joined by other Islamist outfits.

In other bloodshed, two policemen were killed and four wounded Saturday when a bomb blew up their pick-up in the eastern province of Paktia, provincial police chief Ismatullah Alizai said, blaming the Taliban.

Unknown gunmen meanwhile shot dead a tribal elder in the same province, he said.

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