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Central & South Asia
'Scores' of Afghans dead in US raid
Officials dispute claim by US-led forces that attack killed 30 Taliban fighters.
Last Modified: 23 Aug 2008 04:17 GMT
Karzai said that attacks by foreign forces have succeeded only in killing civilians [EPA]

Afghanistan's interior ministry says US-led forces killed 76 civilians in an operation on Wednesday in the west of the country, directly contradicting the US military which said 30 suspected Taliban had died.

"Seventy-six people, all civilians and most of them women and children, were martyred during the operation by coalition forces in Shindand district of Herat province," the ministry said on Friday.

"Nineteen women, seven men and the rest children all under 15 years of age," were killed in the operation, the statement said.

The ministry said it would be one of the highest civilian deaths tolls in the battle against the Taliban since they were ousted from power during the 2001 US-led invasion.

A US military spokesman said he had no knowledge of the non-combatant deaths.

Afghan investigation

Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr reported that the Afghan interior ministry's figures had been confirmed by the provincial governor and police chief.

She said that the information had been gathered by a team of investigators from the army, police and intelligence service. They had retrieved bodies from houses that had been bombed. They expect the toll to rise as not all the houses have been checked.

"People are very angry," Khodr said. "This is not the first time. Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, has made repeated calls for Nato to stop air strikes."

Akramuddin Yawer, the police chief for western Afghanistan, said that Taliban were among the dead but their numbers were unknown.

Daoud Sultanzoy, an Afghan MP, told Al Jazeera that when the Taliban are in villages and civilian areas, it is very difficult to separate them from civilians when Nato rely on air attacks.

"With either good or bad intelligence, the most important lesson to learn from this is that we need to rely more on ground troops," he said.

"Since Nato and the coalition don't have these troops, the reliance on air support is greater. So, if they can increase their ground operations it would probably alleviate some of these problems."

"[The Taliban] don't have offices," he said. "This is a civilian house. And regretfully, when a bombing takes place - an aerial bombing, or any kind of smart bombing - definitely, you will have these kind of regretful casualities."

Figures disputed

General Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the defence ministry spokesman, however, provided different figures, saying only five civilians - three women and two children - had died.

"Planes bombed the area and in the result, 25 Taliban were killed, including two famous commanders," Azimi said. "Unfortunately, five civilians were killed and one woman and a boy were wounded.

The air assault on Wednesday that caused the deaths were called in to respond to an attack on troops operating in Laghman province, which adjoins the Sarobi area where 10 French soldiers died earlier in the week, the US-led forces said.

"During the operation, more than 30 militants were killed and a large cache of mortar rounds and IED [improvised explosive device] materials were destroyed by the commandos," they said in a statement.

The attacks were called when the area was clear of women and children after about 200 civilians were seen fleeing, and there were no civilian casualties, the statement said.

The issue of civilian casualties caused by foreign forces fighting the Taliban has led to a rift between Afghanistan and its Western backers.

Karzai said this month that air attacks by foreign forces had succeeded only in killing civilians and not in winning the war.

Source:
Al Jazeera and agencies
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