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US Military, Afghan President at Odds Over Airstrike Deaths


Afghan President Hamid Karzai has condemned a U.S. airstrike in western Afghanistan that some Afghan officials say killed more than 70 civilians on Thursday. VOA's Barry Newhouse reports from Islamabad that the U.S. military disputes the number of civilian casualties and insists the operation was a successful strike against a wanted Taliban commander.

President Hamid Karzai's office issued a statement Saturday strongly condemning what it called a "unilateral operation of Coalition Forces" in the Shindand district of Herat Province.

The statement said local political and security officials reported at least 70 people, including women and children were killed in the airstrike.

The U.S. military disputes the civilian casualty figures and says troops called for airstrikes after a group of wanted militants fired on a joint patrol of coalition and Afghan forces.

U.S. coalition spokesman, First Lieutenant Nathan Perry, told VOA the troops were able to search the compound following the battle to confirm the casualty figures.

He says five civilians, who were believed to be related to the militants, were among the 30 people killed in the strike.

"There was already a battlefield assessment of this operation," said the spokesman. "We want to point out that this was an Afghan army operation. Coalition troops were in support of the Afghan operation. And after the operation, those troops on the ground were able to do a battlefield assessment. Not only did they confirm that they killed 25 militants, they also confirmed the main target that they were in pursuit of."

The spokesman said despite the initial battlefield assessment, U.S.-led coalition forces have launched an investigation into the airstrike. Afghan officials have also called for an investigation.

Civilians deaths from U.S. airstrikes are a contentious issue in Afghanistan and in recent months the Afghan government has been more assertive in publicly rebuking foreign allied forces for civilian casualties.

President Karzai said Saturday that so far, Afghan efforts to stop civilian casualties have not had "desired outcomes." The president said the government will soon announce new initiatives for avoiding civilian deaths.

In the village in Herat where Thursday's airstrike occurred, hundreds of locals protested Saturday after rejecting offers of food and other aid from Afghan military troops. Local media reports said some of the protesters turned violent and soldiers fired on the crowd, injuring several people.

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