March 19, 2015 / 3:03 PM / 2 years ago

Poland clears four soldiers of war crimes over Afghanistan killings

WARSAW (Reuters) - Four Polish soldiers were on Thursday cleared of war crimes over the killing of six civilians during a patrol in Afghanistan in 2007, but were convicted of lesser charges for which three of them were given suspended sentences.

Poland took part in U.S.- and NATO-led military operations in Afghanistan between 2002 and 2014, stationing its forces mainly in the central-eastern province of Ghazni.

In August 2007, a Polish patrol attacked the village of Nangar Khel in southeastern Afghanistan using mortar shells and automatic weapons, killing six civilians, including three children, and wounding three others.

The soldiers said that they were responding to fire from Taliban militants, and blamed the casualties on faulty military equipment.

Their trial was the first time in more than 70 years that Poland's military had been involved in a war crimes prosecution.

On Thursday, the Warsaw military court ruled that the soldiers' actions did not constitute a war crime, spokesman Tomasz Krajewski said. "The court did not establish that the soldiers' actions were deliberate. The shooting of the village was not on purpose, neither was the killing of the civilians."

But the soldiers, one of whom is still in active military service, were found guilty of failing to carry out a military order. Three of them were given suspended prison sentences of up to two years, according to Krajewski.

The fourth soldier was found guilty of the lesser charge but received no sentence. The soldiers can appeal the ruling.

Around 28,000 Polish military personnel took part in the international mission in Afghanistan over the years, and 45 of them died on duty. Poland estimates the cost of its involvement in Afghanistan at 6 billion zlotys ($1.55 billion).

($1 = 3.8743 zlotys)

Reporting by Wiktor Szary; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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