NATO's force in Afghanistan said around 70 people were killed in raids targeting the Taliban this week, but was still unsure how many were civilians after reports that scores of ordinary people died.
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) admitted in a statement late on Friday a "number of civilians were killed along with a large number of insurgents" in the Oct. 24 air strike in Kandahar province in the south.
"ISAF believes that around 70 individuals were killed," the statement said.
"We are satisfied that we identified and targeted a group of insurgents, but it is uncertain how many civilians were among the dead. In addition, it is unclear how many of the civilians were killed as a result of insurgent fire."
Residents of the Panjwayi area have said between 60 and 85 civilians were killed in the late-night bombing raid, which started on the second day of the Eid al-Fitr holiday marking the end of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Some have said none of the dead were Taliban, but ISAF has said it believed 48 were militants, including from a group that attacked a base.
On Friday it said 12 of the dead were civilians, while the police put the figure at about 25 with a presidential-appointed commission and a separate ISAF and defense ministry team investigating the incident.
The latest incident, just under two weeks after 20 other civilians were reported killed in ISAF strikes in Kandahar and Helmand provinces, has added to concern about the number of locals being caught up in fighting between the Taliban and the military.
President Hamid Karzai on Friday again called for foreign troops to take more care and urged better coordination with local forces.
Karzai met NATO military commander General James Jones at the presidential palace in the capital yesterday for talks that were expected to touch on the civilian toll.
ISAF reiterated its "sincere regret" for any civilian deaths and said it was working with the ministry of defense to investigate what had happened.
Meanwhile, a leading human rights organization said NATO-led troops are not doing enough to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan and called on the Western military alliance to establish a program to compensate victims' families.
New York-based Human Rights Watch said NATO's recent operations in Afghanistan have resulted in the deaths of dozens of civilians across the country.
"While NATO forces try to minimize harm to civilians, they obviously are not doing enough," Sam Zarifi, the group's Asia research director, said in a statement released in New York on Friday. "NATO's tactics are increasingly endangering the civilians they are supposed to be protecting and turning the local population against them."
Human Rights Watch also said NATO has relied extensively on the use of aircraft to attack insurgent positions.