U.S. Accused of Killing 76 Civilians in Afghanistan Airstrike

Kabul -- The Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, yesterday condemned a U.S.-led coalition air strike which his government says killed 76 civilians, most of them women and children.

Coalition forces bombarded the Azizabad area of Shindand district on Friday. The U.S. military said it was aware of allegations of civilian casualties, but said those killed were militants. "Our reports from our own forces on the ground are only, so far, that those killed in the strikes were 30 and they were all militants," said a U.S. military spokesman. "All allegations of civilian casualties are taken very seriously. An investigation has been directed."

Demonstrations erupted in Shindand after Afghan soldiers arrived to bring aid to the victims' families. The troops fired shots into the air and wounded six people after the crowd threw stones. Protesters said they would continue to demonstrate until "the attackers had been brought to justice".

Kai Eide, the United Nation's special envoy in Afghanistan, said that he was aware of conflicting reports of casualties in Shindand and called for the incident to be investigated "thoroughly and quickly" before any conclusions were made. "The United Nations has always made clear that civilian casualties are unacceptable -- they undermine the trust and confidence of the Afghan people," said Eide. "Every effort that can be made -- must be made -- to ensure the safety and welfare of the civilian population where military operations are conducted," he said.

Nearly 700 civilians were killed in the first six months of this year, 255 of them by Afghan government and international troops, the rest by Taliban militants, the UN says. In another incident, a roadside bomb killed 10 civilians in the Shah Wali Kot district of southern Kandahar province, and another roadside bomb killed three civilians in the Tani district of eastern Khost province yesterday.

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