At least 80 civilians were killed in Nato bombings in southern Afghanistan earlier this week, according to local government officials and witnesses. Nato admitted that it had received credible reports that several civilians were killed in Panjwai but insisted that 48 Taliban fighters had died during the heavy fighting.
The operation had targeted Taliban who were attacking aid deliveries and reconstruction projects in the area, Major Luke Knittig, an International Security Force (Isaf) spokesman, said. Troops used “precision strikes” against Taliban, he added.
“Very sadly, civilians continue to get caught up in these engagements with tragic results,” Knittig said.
After visiting the wounded in hospital, Naik Mohammad, a tribal elder, said that 60 civilians had died in the incident on Tuesday.
Villagers also put the death toll at 60 dead while a member of the Kandahar provincial assembly said that 80 had been killed.
Witnesses said that 25 homes had been destroyed in nearly five hours of bombing.
“It was late at night – that might be the reason they didn’t know where to bomb,” Agha Lalai, a member of the provincial assembly, said. “They have bombed residential houses.”
Another assembly member said civilian homes were targeted after Taliban fighters ran inside them.
“With insurgents who regard the population as a form of human shield for themselves, it obviously makes life very difficult for us, but it does not stop us from making every effort to ensure that we minimise any problems,” said Mark Laity, a Nato spokesman.
“We know that the public rely on us and expect us to take every care, and if they [civilians] are accidentally killed then it can affect [public] faith in us,” he added.
Puppet “president” Hamid Karzai has appointed a commission to investigate the attack after issuing a statement which said he was “deeply touched” by the reports.