25 Aug 2008

US disputes bombing of Afghan civilians

9:48 am on 25 August 2008

Reports from Afghanistan say dozens of civilians have been killed during a military operation by American forces in western Herat province.

The US military says it is confident that the death toll is 30, all of them militants. It says the strike, in the Azizabad area of Shindand district, targeted a known Taliban commander, after Afghan and coalition forces came under attack from insurgents.

But the Afghan government has put the toll at 76 civilians, most of them women and children.

"Seventy-six civilians, most of them women and children, were martyred today in a coalition forces operation in Herat province," the Afghan Interior Ministry said in a statement.

The BBC reports that the provincial police force and local elders have put the death toll at over 50, including women and children.

They say a large group was bombed and more than a dozen houses destroyed.

There is still confusion over the figures, which are almost impossible to verify.

The US military working outside NATO said they remained confident no civilians were killed in their operation, and the Afghan Defence Ministry initially backed up that statement.

But the BBC reports the ministry is now investigating further.

Nearly 700 civilians have been killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants.