The U.S. military Saturday admitted it while responding to an insurgent ambush has killed 37 civilians and wounded 35 others in southern Afghanistan's Kandahar, a Taliban heartland.
Militants, who came in large numbers to Wech Baghtu village of Shah Wali Kot district, fired at a joint patrol of Afghan national security forces and the U.S.-led forces there Monday and then close air support was called in by the military to suppress the rebels, the U.S. forces said in report of a joint probe with Afghan government.
The air strike however hit a wedding gathering at the village, causing a lot of civilian casualties, according to locals. Haji Roozi Khan, a local villager and eyewitness, earlier told Xinhua 37 civilians including 10 women, 23 children died and over 30 others including the bride sustained injuries in the air raid lasting from around 2 p.m. until late that night.
"Insurgents fired at ANSF and Coalition forces from some of the villagers' homes while using the homes for cover," the report issued by the U.S. military said Saturday, citing local elders.
"The villagers also stated that insurgents prevented the families from leaving the village, indicating a deliberate attempt to cause civilian casualties," it added.
The report came a day after Afghan government officials revealed their investigation result indicating the almost the same figure of civilian casualties. Some 26 Taliban militants also perished in the air bombing, according to Afghan officials.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has in the past for several times asked the U.S.-led foreign troops to avoid harming civilians, condemned the incident. His government reportedly has announced a 2,000 U.S. dollars' compensation for each killed civilian.
Over 1,500 civilians have been killed in Afghan violence this year, either by the militants or the Afghan and international troops, according to UN officials.
The Afghanistan-based U.S. and NATO troops, who are 70,000-strong and fighting an escalating Taliban-led insurgency, mostly relying on air raids to kill insurgents, continue to mis-strike civilian targets, due to misleading information or aimless firing among others, despite repeated appeals from Afghan authorities for ending civilian casualties.
The worst one in years was on Aug. 22 when a U.S. airstrike in western Herat province, according to UN and Afghan government probes, claimed over 90 civilian lives, which prompted Afghan cabinet to pass a historic resolution asking for a re-regulation of foreign troops' presence in the post-Taliban nation. The U.S. however later in a probe confirmed only 33 civilians died in the raid.
Continuous civilian killings by the foreign troops, which are considered sensitive, have spurred common Afghans' anger, if not hatred, towards U.S.-led foreign troops and undermined the popularity of Afghan government. It is also believed that such cases have strained relations between Karzai administration and its western backers.
Karzai Wednesday while congratulating on Barack Obama's victory in U.S. presidential elections called on the U.S. new leadership to prevent from harming civilians in their Afghan military operations.
"Our first demand is to avoid harming civilians in Afghanistan," Karzai said.
In a related development, the U.S.-led Coalition and the NATO troops Wednesday in an air attack on militants who were attacking Afghan government ground troops killed seven civilians, along with13 insurgents in northwestern Badghis province, local police said.