Thursday, June 28, 2007

Military insists slain Khalis villagers were the 'enemy' due to suspicious actions

Above: Soldiers with Delta Company, 1st Cavalry Division, 12th Infantry Regiment search a house (top) and question a farmer (below) during patrols in Khalis in February.

The U.S. military said on Thursday it was investigating reports that Iraqi neighbourhood guards at a town north of Baghdad were killed in an air strike the military had said killed 17 al Qaeda gunmen...

In response to queries from Reuters, the U.S. military said that while it was investigating the incident, only the "enemy" had been killed. But it dropped the reference to al Qaeda.

No American or Iraqi forces had been notified about a neighbourhood watch programme being implemented that night or any night in Khalis, nor did security forces approve such a programme, the U.S. military said in an email on Thursday.

It said attack helicopters observed a group of armed men moving in military-like formation through Khalis.

"I consider the 17 armed men as a militia because they were conducting an offensive operation in the vicinity of an IP (Iraqi police) operation," said Colonel David Sutherland, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Cavalry Division commander. "We engaged, protected the IP element and killed the enemy"...

According to residents, the guards were helping an Iraqi police unit raid a suspected insurgent hideout minutes before the air attack on June 22, the BBC reported. The guards were armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

The insurgent hideout turned out to be a false alarm, but as police and guards began to return, the police received a radio message saying U.S. helicopters were about to raid the area.

While the police managed to get away, the guards were hit by a rocket strike by American helicopters. Other guards at their base at an unfinished building nearby were also hit.

The rockets were followed by strafing by heavy machinegun fire from the helicopters, the BBC reported.

Read the rest at Reuters/Alternet

Related Link:
Report: Khalis villagers dispute account of deadly U.S. airstrike

Related Link:
17 killed in Khalis airstrike for being suspicious