Afghans accuse coalition forces of killing 76 civilians in air strike

American-led coalition forces killed 76 Afghan civilians in western Afghanistan on Friday, the interior ministry said.

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the statement said.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district in Herat province on Friday afternoon, the ministry said. Nineteen victims were women, seven were men, and the rest were children under 15, it said.

However, the coalition denied killing civilians. It said 30 militants had been killed in an air strike in Shindand district in the early hours of Friday and no further air strikes had been launched. Air strikes took place between 1am-2am after Afghan and coalition soldiers were ambushed by insurgents while on a patrol targeting a Taliban commander in Herat, the US military said in a statement.

"Insurgents engaged the soldiers from multiple points within the compound using small arms and RPG [rocket-propelled grenade] fire. The joint forces responded with small arms fire and an air strike, killing 30 militants."

Saeed Sharif, a council member where the strike occurred, said: "Last night at 2am some people were attending a holy Koran recitation in Shindand district when Americans started bombing."

A senior police commander, General Ikramuddin Yawar, said: "More than 30 people have been killed."

A spokesman for the defence ministry in Kabul said US special forces and Afghan troops had struck against a commander named Mullah Sidiq. "Twenty-five Taliban were killed, including Sidiq and another commander," said a spokesman General Zaher Azimi. "Five civilians were killed."

On Friday, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) fired artillery rounds into Pakistan from the eastern Afghan province of Paktika in an attack on militants co-ordinated with the Pakistani military.

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