Afghan villagers say airstrikes killed civilians

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The Independent Online

Two Afghan villagers alleged today that airstrikes hit a wedding party in southern Afghanistan and killed or wounded dozens of women and children.

No Afghan officials could immediately confirm the number of alleged casualties, but President Hamid Karzai appeared to refer to the incident at a news conference held to congratulate Barack Obama on his US presidential election victory.

Karzai said his first demand for the new president was to prevent civilians casualties in operations by foreign forces. He then said airstrikes had caused deaths in the Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar province.

"As we speak, there are civilian casualties in Afghanistan," Karzai said.

The US military said it had no information on the incident.

The alleged airstrikes come only three months after the Afghan government found that a US operation killed some 90 civilians in western Afghanistan. A US report said 33 civilians died in that attack.

Another incident with a high number of civilian casualties could severely strain US-Afghan relations.

Two Afghan villagers told The Associated Press on Wednesday that dozens of women and children had been killed or wounded in airstrikes Monday. A local government official, speaking on condition he wasn't identified because revealing the information could cause him problems, said deaths occurred in Shah Wali Kot. He did not have a precise figure.

One villager, Mohammad Zahir, 35, said Taliban militants had fired on a US convoy near the village of Rosi Khan on Monday, and airstrikes later hit a wedding party in the village.

Zahir said he personally counted 36 dead bodies. He said two were men and the rest were women and children. He estimated many more dozens of people had been killed and wounded.

The second villager, Mohammad Nabi Khan, said he saw about 50 bodies. He said two of his sons, ages 4 and 11, and his wife's brother were among the dead.

"There's a lot of casualties," he said, speaking at Kandahar's main hospital where he was visiting wounded relatives. "Most of them were women and children. Many are still buried under the rubble of homes."

"What kind of security are the foreign troops providing in Afghanistan?" he asked.

Rosi Khan is a remote village some two hours by road north of Kandahar city, a rural region that is difficult for humanitarian officials and journalists to reach quickly.

Civilian deaths have long caused friction between Karzai's government and the US and NATO. But following the US operation in western Afghanistan in August, relations between Afghanistan and the United States were seriously damaged. Karzai called for a review of operations by US forces in Afghan villages.

An Afghan government commission found the Aug. 22 attack on the village of Aziziabad killed some 90 Afghan civilians — a finding backed by a preliminary U.N. report. The US military at first said only 30 militants were killed and no civilians. But days later the military said up to seven civilians had died.

However, after video of Azizabad emerged days later showing what appeared to be dozens of bodies, the US appointed a US-based one-star general to investigate. His report found the US operation killed 33 civilians. The report said US troops were justified in firing on the village because militants had first fired on them and wounded a US soldier.

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