US admits killing Afghan civilians

17.jpgUS military officials have admitted civilians were among those killed in a US-led air raid on a village in Afghanistan.

Locals say more than 100 people, many of them women and children, died in the US-led attacks on a village close to the frontline in Helmland province.

Dur Ali Shah, Gereshk district mayor, said overnight air strikes on Friday targeted Taliban fighters who had moved into the village of Hyderabad after a clash with US-led coalition troops.


Government officials who travelled to the area to investigate confirmed that scores of civilians had died.

Bodies unearthed

Ali Shah said: “The finding of our investigations about the civilian casualties in Gereshk district so far is that 65 civilians including women, children and men have been killed.”

He said 35 Taliban were also killed.

Feda Mohammad, a villager, told the AFP news agency: “Six houses have been bombed, three of them have been reduced to rubble.

“People are still busy bringing out the dead from under the rubble. There are funerals at various places.”

Mohammad Khan, a resident of Hyderabad, said the air raids killed seven members of his family, including his brother and five of his brother’s children.

Villagers were burying a “lot of dead bodies” on Saturday, he said by telephone.

Numbers disputed

James Bays, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Afghanistan, said: “It is clear that members of the US-led coalition, probably American special forces, called in the close air support.


“What is not clear is exactly how many people died. It is known that women and children were among the dead, some local leaders say over 100 people were killed.”

The US acknowledged in a news release that civilians had been killed, but did not say how many, the Associated Press reported.

It said the air raids were in response to attacks on a joint Afghan-coalition patrol.

Major Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman, said: “”It appears that ANA [Afghan National Army] and coalition forces fired at clearly identified firing positions.”

“Remains of some people who apparently were civilians were found among insurgent fighters who were killed in firing positions in a trench line.”

He alleged that Taliban fighters had hidden among civilians.

‘No evidence’

Major John Thomas, a spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force [Isaf], said it was aware there were “probably” some civilian casualties but said: “We have no evidence to corroborate some of the large numbers we have seen reported in the press.”

Civilian deaths caused by US and Nato-led troops have infuriated Afghans.

The killings come a week after Hamid Kharzai, the Afghan president, criticised Nato and the US-led coalition, saying: “The extreme use of force, the disproportionate use of force, to a situation and the lack of co-ordination with the Afghan government is causing these casualties.”

He condemned the forces for carelessness and viewing Afghan lives as “cheap”. He also blamed the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.

Soaring violence

Violence has soared in Afghanistan with more than 2,800 people killed in fighting this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western military and Afghan officials.

A count by the United Nations and an umbrella organisation of Afghan and international aid groups shows that the number of civilians killed by international forces was slightly greater than the number killed by suspected Taliban fighters in the first half of the year.

An AP count for 2007 based on figures from Afghan and international officials found that while fighters killed 178 civilians in attacks through June 23, Western forces killed 203.

The US and Nato say they do not have civilian casualty figures.

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