Sat, May 09, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Afghan strikes’ death toll ‘exaggerated’: US military

AFP , KABUL

Early investigations into civilian casualties in clashes and US-led strikes in Afghanistan have found claims of a toll of approximately 100 dead are “grossly exaggerated,” the US military said yesterday.

US military and Afghan defense and interior ministry teams returned from the area in the western province of Farah early yesterday and were still going through their findings, Colonel Greg Julian said.

They had expected to release a report on their joint investigation yesterday but this may be pushed back to today to include results of a separate probe appointed by Afghan President Hamid Karzai, he said.

Julian refused to comment on reports from Washington citing US officials saying investigations had found that US troops were responsible for the deaths of villagers in the air strikes.

“There were civilian casualties no doubt,” he said. “But the conclusion from the investigation has not been reached, and it’s inappropriate to indicate one way or the other how they were caused.”

One of the issues being looked into was whether the Taliban had caused the civilian casualties by throwing grenades among villagers, he said.

Afghan police have said that more than 100 people were killed, about 25 to 30 of them insurgents and the remainder civilians, including elderly people and children.

A member of the Farah council, Abdul Basir Khair Khowa, said he had been to the area and was told by locals that 147 civilians were killed.

Some local media reports have cited villagers claiming up to 170 civilians died.

“All parties agreed that the high numbers that have been stated previously are grossly exaggerated,” Julian said, adding that this included the Afghan police figure of 100.

The clashes from Monday to Tuesday were focused on two villages in the Bala Buluk district, a dangerous area where Taliban have a strong presence making it difficult for journalists to travel to the area.

Meanwhile, the death toll for Afghans killed in a suicide attack that apparently targeted foreign forces in southern Afghanistan rose to 21 yesterday, while a foreign soldier was killed in a blast in the same area, officials said.

NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said one of its soldiers was killed in a blast on Thursday, but could not immediately confirm if it was the same suicide attack that killed civilians.

The attack was carried out in a busy bazaar in Helmand province’s Girishk district.

“Twenty-one people are dead and 22 wounded,” Helmand government spokesman Daud Ahmadi said.

All the dead were civilians and some were children, but it was not yet established how many, he said. Two policemen were among the wounded.

ISAF said in a statement its soldier “was killed as a result of an improvised explosive device strike yesterday.” It gave no details, including the nationality of the soldier, and its media office was not able to release more information.

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