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Afghans allege dozens of civilian deaths

Afghans allege dozens of civilian deaths

Afghan officials alleged Tuesday that dozens of civilians had died in bombing runs by U.S.-led coalition aircraft during fighting in a Taliban-controlled region of western Afghanistan.
Two Afghan officials, one of whom said he was in the village and had seen many bodies, said children, women and elderly men had gathered in an Afghan home for safety after fighting broke out between militants and Afghan forces and U.S. coalition troops. The officials said aircraft later bombed the village in western Farah province, hitting one or more homes where civilians had gathered.
The top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, Col. Greg Julian, confirmed coalition forces participated in the battle. Julian said several wounded Afghans sought medical treatment at a military base in Farah, but officials were still investigating the reports of civilian deaths.
Farah's provincial police chief said 25 Taliban fighters and three Afghan policemen were killed in the fighting, which began Monday in Bala Baluk district.
"Afghan and foreign forces conducted an operation between 1 p.m. and 8 p.m. (Monday). They have killed more than 25 Taliban. Most of the dead bodies are there," Abdul Ghafar said. Ghafar could not confirm reports of civilian casualties.
Provincial council member Belqis Roshan said dozens of Taliban gathered in Bala Baluk on Monday, and fighting broke out soon after.
She said airstrikes later hit civilian homes. She estimated the number of civilian deaths at between 70 and 83, based on information from villagers. Roshan said she told villagers to take photos and video of the destruction and bodies.
Bala Baluk's former top government official, Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, who no longer holds a government position, said he visited the village of Gerani and saw dozens of bodies.
"These houses that were full of children and women and elders were bombed by planes. It is very difficult to say how many were killed because nobody can count the number, it is too early," he told The Associated Press by telephone. "People are digging through rubble with shovels and hands."
Qadderdan said there "are more than 100 civilians dead" and about 10 houses had been destroyed. He said the wounded Afghans had been severely burned. Qadderdan's numbers were not immediately confirmed by any other official.
Qadderdan said the civilian casualties were "worse than Azizabad," a reference to an August 2008 strike in a district immediately to the north of Bala Baluk.
An Afghan government commission found that an operation by U.S. forces killed 90 civilians in Azizabad, a finding backed by the U.N. The U.S. originally said no civilians died; a high-level investigation later concluded 33 civilians were killed.
Civilian deaths have caused an increasing amount of friction between the Afghan government and the U.S., and President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with U.S. officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties. Karzai meets with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
After the Azizabad killings, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, announced a directive last September meant to reduce such deaths. He ordered commanders to consider breaking away from a firefight in populated areas rather than pursue militants into villages.
The issue of civilian deaths is a complicated one in Afghanistan. Journalists and human rights workers can rarely visit remote battle sites to verify claims of civilian casualties. U.S. officials have said Taliban militants sometimes force villagers to falsely claim that civilians have died as part of its information warfare campaign.
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Associated Press reporter Noor Khan in Kanadahar contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-08-02 16:57 GMT+08:00