US air strike on Taliban kills Afghan civilians

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The Independent Online

It was impossible to confirm what happened after Afghan police and foreign troops cordoned off the village of Azizi, 30 miles south-west of Kandahar. It is the latest in a series of incidents in Afghanistan in which civilians have died in US air strikes on villages. It appears clear that Taliban insurgents were present in the village. US forces claimed as many as 80 Taliban fighters may have been killed in the air strikes, but said they had only verified 20 Taliban deaths. The Taliban confirmed the fighting but denied they had suffered any casualties.

Wounded villagers in a Kandahar hospital said the Taliban had been sheltering in the village's madrassa or religious school.

"Helicopters bombed the madrassa and some of the Taliban ran from there and into people's homes. Then those homes were bombed," said Haji Ikhlaf.

"There were dead people everywhere," said Zurmina Bibi, cradling her eight-month-old baby. She said 10 people were killed in her home, including three or four children. One villager said Taliban fighters had used the roof of his house to fire missiles at US forces.

Colonel Tom Collins, a US military spokesman, said: "It's common that the enemy fights in close to civilians, as a means to protect its own forces. We targeted a Taliban compound and we're certain we hit the right target."

The US military said it was "looking into" reports of civilian casualties but the Afghan governor of Kandahar province, Asadullah Khalid, confirmed that 16 civilians were killed and another 16 wounded. Mr Khalid added: "These accidents happen during fighting, especially when the Taliban are hiding in homes. I urge people not to give shelter to the Taliban."

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