US admits killing Afghan civilians

Officials in Helmand province say 45 civilians were among more than 100 dead.

    Women and children were reportedly among the casualties in the US-led air raid

    Bodies unearthed
    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.

    Nato's International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) acknowledged that some civilians were killed in the fighting in southern Afghanistan but said the death toll was nowhere near as high as Afghan officials have claimed.

    Major John Thomas, a spokesman for Isaf, said the military had no information "to corroborate numbers that large" and that Nato would not fire on positions if it knew civilians were nearby.

    It's the enemy fighters who willingly fire when civilians are standing right next to them," he said.
    US action

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

    Major Chris Belcher, US-led coalition spokesman

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

    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.

    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.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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