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Afghan officials say dozens dead in airstrikes

Afghan officials say dozens dead in airstrikes

Bombing runs by U.S.-led coalition jets killed dozens of civilians taking shelter from a fierce ground battle between Taliban militants and Afghan and international forces, two Afghan officials said Tuesday. The U.S. confirmed fighting Monday in western Afghanistan and said reports of civilian deaths were under investigation.
Civilian deaths have caused increasing 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 in their operations. Karzai meets with President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday.
But the issue 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.
Taliban massed in the district in western Afghanistan on Monday, and fighting broke out soon after, said Belqis Roshan, a member of the Farah provincial council. She said airstrikes later hit homes and 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.
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.
Mohammad Nieem Qadderdan, the former top official in the district of Bala Baluk, said he saw dozens of bodies when he visited the village of Gerani.
"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," Qadderdan, who no longer holds a government position, told The Associated Press by telephone. "People are digging through rubble with shovels and hands."
Farah's provincial police chief said 25 Taliban fighters and three Afghan policemen died in the fighting.
"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. He could not confirm reports of civilian casualties.
Qadderdan said there "are more than 100 civilians dead" and about 10 houses were 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.
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.
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Associated Press writer Noor Khan in Kanadahar contributed to this report.


Updated : 2021-07-25 15:41 GMT+08:00