Tuesday, May 5, 2009

US planes 'kill Afghan civilians'

US planes 'kill Afghan civilians'

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There are reports that US air strikes on militants in western Afghanistan killed more than 20 civilians, an Afghan official has told the BBC.

Fierce fighting in the Bala Boluk district of Farrah province also reportedly killed 25 Taleban militants.

The American military says it is investigating reports of civilians among the casualties.

The Afghan official spoke of seeing more than 20 bodies in two lorries outside the governor's house.

He said women and children were among the casualties.

Those who transported the bodies said they had been killed by American air strikes, according to the same official.

The issue of civilian casualties is hugely sensitive in Afghanistan, the BBC's Martin Patience reports from Kabul.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged international forces to take greater steps to avoid them.

In a separate development, US envoy Richard Holbrooke told Congress in Washington that America's vital national security interests were at stake in both Afghanistan and neighbouring Pakistan.

Police killed

In a statement, US military said it was currently operating in the area and was investigating the reports.

According to Afghan officials, the violence broke out after more than 100 Taleban militants attacked a police checkpoint, killing three Afghan police.

Insurgents then moved to a nearby village where they killed three civilians whom they accused of spying for the government.

As the fighting continued, American air strikes were carried out against militants sheltering in houses.

Violence has increased sharply in Afghanistan over the past year.

An estimated 7,000 people - including 2,000 civilians - were killed in fighting during that period, the UN and aid agencies say.

President Karzai, who is due to meet US President Barack Obama in Washington on Wednesday, has long pleaded with US officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties.

The US plans to double its forces to 68,000 by the year's end to fight the Taleban, who have been waging a deadly insurgency since they were ousted from power by US-led forces in 2001.


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