Nato pilots have been accused of killing 13 Afghan civilians, including nine children, during an attack close to the British base at Musa Kala in Helmand province.
Witnesses and relatives of the dead, who were interviewed by The Independent at the town of Lashkargar, claim that on 31 July a family of 13 was attempting to flee the fighting in a rented pickup truck with three other men when an aircraft appeared overhead.
"We stopped the car," said Abdul Habib, 40. "Then the plane dropped a bomb ahead of us and went away. After a while we started driving again, but the aircraft came back. I told my wives to stand up so that the pilot would see they were women, but at that moment it opened fire."
The survivors say that the attack happened near the village of Chogra, just north of Musa Qala, where the small British garrison has been under frequent attack since June.
Nato officials said that two attacks were made on vehicles near Musa Qala on that day by Nato A-10 tankbusters. The aircraft type would tally with the survivors' accounts of the attack, which describe the aircraft firing "big bullets" or "some kind of rockets" at them. The A-10 is armed with a 30mm cannon designed for destroying armoured vehicles. One of the attacks destroyed a vehicle on the eastern side of the town, according to Nato pilot records.
Nato records indicate that both A-10 attacks were called in by spotters from the British garrison in the Musa Qala platoon house, following an attack by Taliban forces.
"These were Taliban forces withdrawing after an attack, suggesting they were not civilians," Major Toby Jackman, the Nato spokesman, said.
The vehicle that the family say they had been using was of a type often used by Taliban forces. Mr Habib suffered extensive injuries to one arm, his shoulder, back and both legs. One of his sons and another man also survived with injuries. His two wives, 27 and 25, and children, Rafar, 10, Manan, eight, Mohammed, two, Nisar Ahmed, five months, Shabiqa, 11, Gulsoma, nine, Kasima, six, Shukria, four, and Shakoofa, two months, were all killed in the attack.
The family say that they had been trying to escape Musa Qala to stay with relatives in Baghran district, in the north of the province.
"This is the truth, please believe me," Mr Habib said, weeping frequently as he described the attack. "I have lost all my family, save one son. God gave them to me, and he has taken them away again; what was my crime, what did I do wrong?"
Mr Habib's brother, Sadiqullah, who uses only one name, said that he had collected the bodies of the dead women and children.
"Many people were gathered at the scene, and the bodies were in a row under sheets," he said. "All the people were so angry. One boy was injured but he died on the way [to hospital]." The bodies were badly disfigured and the family said they were unable to wash them according to Muslim tradition before burial.
Haji Faizal Haq, 56, says that his son, Mohammed Nabi, 26, who was driving the grey Toyota pickup, was killed. Another son, Mohammed Wali, 23, was injured in the attack.
"It was not a Taliban car," Mr Haq said. "There was all the family's possessions in the car and the women and children had been sitting high up on top of their possessions."
Staff at the nearby emergency hospital said that the number of admissions in July, 227 new patients, was double the previous month - the overwhelming majority having suffered traumatic injuries consistent with explosions and battle. These have included significant numbers of women and children.
"In the last 15 days there has been an increase in the number of women and children," said one doctor, who declined to be named. "In the past week we have received four women with injuries that are consistent with explosions, and four children. Two of the children had suffered traumatic amputations."
Some of those who were admitted are likely to be Taliban fighters. Nato officials have also claimed that the Taliban uses civilian areas and housing to mount attacks against Western troops, increasing the risk of civilian casualties.Reuse content