Karzai criticises Nato over deaths of up to 85 civilians during battle

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President Hamid Karzai has condemned the killing of scores of civilians in a Nato operation against the Taliban as more details emerged about the incident.

It now appears some of those who were killed on Tuesday were nomads living in a tent encampment just outside the village of Panjwayi - among the very poorest of Afghanistan's citizens. But President Karzai told a press conference in Kabul that three houses were also destroyed, killing most of the people inside.

Mr Karzai said yesterday: "We share solidarity with the families of the victims and the people of Afghanistan are hurt and saddened by this incident. Our sadness, our pain, is for the civilians."

The victims' funerals continued yesterday. Nato said it had been able to confirm 12 civilian deaths, but the Afghan Interior Ministry said it had confirmed at least 40, and local politicians claim there were up to 85.

Mr Karzai did not give a figure yesterday, speaking only of "numbers" of civilian deaths. But he did say pointedly that foreign pilots did not always manage to distinguish between Taliban fighters and civilians.

Nato has accused the Taliban of using civilians as "human shields". But a notorious Taliban commander, Mullah Dadullah, denied that accusation and accused Nato of attempting genocide against Afghans.

"We want to inform the foreign forces and their slaves that their defeat is inevitable in Afghanistan," he said. "The Taliban's mujahedin are ready to fight until death."

The one-legged Mullah Dadullah has been accused of personally commanding ethnic cleansing operations against the Shia Hazara during Taliban rule.

Meanwhile, 14 civilians were killed in a separate incident yesterday when their vehicle hit a land mine in the southern Uruzgan province.