Refusing to respond to the specific allegations ... the office of the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith. Photo: John Mokrzycki
ANGRY residents in the village where a father and son were killed in a controversial joint Australian-Afghan military raid 12 days ago claim the pair were shot in the head and that women from the men's family had their hair ripped out.
All but one villager the Herald spoke to claimed the dead men were not insurgents but one said they were connected to the Taliban. The villagers said their bodies were not treated properly and money was stolen during the raid.
Residents in the tiny village of Sula who were contacted by the Herald last week complained bitterly about the behaviour of soldiers searching for a rogue Afghan soldier, Sergeant Hekmatullah, who shot dead three Australians at a patrol base in Oruzgan province on August 30.
The Defence Department and the office of the Minister for Defence, Stephen Smith, have received as many as two dozen questions from three Fairfax reporters regarding the operation.
Defence has refused to respond to the specific allegations, saying it has launched a ''quick assessment'' inquiry into the raid - standard practice whenever questions about mistreatment of civilians are raised.
All Defence would say was that the raid involved 60 Australians and 80 Afghans, that it was carried out under strict rules of engagement designed to protect the soldiers while ensuring their actions were consistent with obligations under Australian and international law.
At a news conference last week, Mr Smith said the men killed were Taliban members. ''Two insurgents had been removed from the battlefield'' and Australian troops had captured an insurgent who might have helped Sergeant Hekmatullah escape, he said.
But the furious villagers, contacted by phone last week by the Herald, claimed the men killed in the raid, Haji Raz Mohammad Akhund and his son Abdul Jalil Akhund, were innocent civilians. They said Raz was aged about 70 and acted as a carpenter and imam in Sula's mosque. Jalil, in his 20s, worked as a stove salesman in the village market.
But according to other reports, Jalil was active in the Taliban insurgency in the area.
The residents of Sula said the soldiers on the raid had flown in in helicopters, landed near a school and raided houses and the mosque where the men were about 8pm.
One resident, who asked not to be named, said the soldiers took men found on the streets, bound them and blindfolded them and made them sit near a wall where they could not see anything.
He said they heard shots in the street and, after the soldiers left, they found Jalil's body in the street outside the mosque about 3.30am. The body appeared to have a bullet wound to the head, he said.
About 7am they found Raz Mohammad's body under a pile of leaves beneath a fig tree 10 metres from the mosque, the resident said. The corpse had a large wound to the chest that looked like something had attacked it, he said.
Raz Mohammad also had a bullet wound to the head.
A headmaster, Jan Mohammed, who helped bring the bodies to the mosque, confirmed that both had what looked like gunshot wounds to the head, and that Jalil appeared to have been hit in the jaw.
He said that after the raid, a woman from Raz's home came out screaming and running around with hair in her hands which she claimed had been pulled from her head.
He said the women had alleged that a dowry for Raz's daughter worth about $3100 was missing from the home.
Haji Sahib, who was visiting the area, said: ''I was coming back from the mosque when a foreign soldier attacked me, pushing me to the ground and they tied my hands.
''They arrested my son who was with me. He is an ice-cream vendor. They took him with them and released him the next day. They let me go because I was old,'' he said.
The raid caused such anger that a day later, a group of Sula villagers went to the offices of the Oruzgan governor, Haji Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, in Tarin Kowt to protest about the raid.
A Defence spokeswoman said: ''Defence is aware of reports that between 20 and 40 Afghan nationals - some being curious bystanders - approached the provincial governor's compound and made representations to the governor.''
The raid has caused uproar at the highest level of government with the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, claiming the Australians did not have permission from Afghan authorities for the raid.
However, Mr Smith has said it was a joint Afghan-Australian operation. The rogue Afghan soldier remains on the run.
Additional reporting by a special correspondent in Kabul.