Afghans killed in US bombings: ICRC
KABUL: The international Red Cross said Wednesday that its officials saw women and children among dozens of dead bodies in two villages in western Afghanistan targeted in U.S. bombing runs.
The Afghan president said he would raise the issue with President Barack Obama when the two meet later Wednesday.
A team from the International Committee of the Red Cross traveled to two villages in Farah province Tuesday, where the team saw "dozens of bodies in each of the two locations that we went to," said spokeswoman Jessica Barry.
"There were bodies, there were graves, and there were people burying bodies when we were there," she said. "We do confirm women and children. There were women and children."
Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered a probe Wednesday into the killings, and the U.S. military sent a brigadier general to Farah to head a U.S. investigation, said Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. spokesman. Afghan military and police officials were also part of the investigative team.
Karzai, currently in the United States, will raise the issue of civilian deaths with Obama, a statement from Karzai's office said. The two presidents were scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting later Wednesday.
Karzai called civilian casualties "unacceptable."
Civilian deaths have caused increasing friction between the Afghan and U.S. governments, and Karzai has long pleaded with American officials to reduce the number of civilian casualties in their operations. U.S. and NATO officials accuse the Taliban militants of fighting from within civilian homes, thus putting them in danger.
Local officials said Tuesday that bombing runs called by U.S. forces killed dozens of civilians in Gerani village in Farah province's Bala Buluk district.
The fighting broke out Monday soon after Taliban fighters — including Taliban from Pakistan and Iran — massed in Farah province in western Afghanistan, said Belqis Roshan, a member of Farah's provincial council. The provincial police chief, Abdul Ghafar, said 25 militants and three police officers died in that battle near the village of Ganjabad in Bala Baluk district, a Taliban-controlled area near the border with Iran.
Villagers told Afghan officials that they put children, women, and elderly men in several housing compounds in the village of Gerani — about three miles to the east — to keep them safe. But villagers said fighter aircraft later targeted those compounds, killing a majority of those inside, according to Roshan and other officials.
A Western official in Kabul said Marine special operations forces — which fall under the U.S. coalition — had called in the airstrikes. The official asked not to be identified because he wasn't authorized to release the information.
Villagers brought bodies, including women and children, to Farah city to show the province's governor on Tuesday, said Abdul Basir Khan, a member of Farah's provincial council. He estimated that villagers brought about 30 bodies.
Farah's hospital treated at least three wounded villagers. A girl named Shafiqa had bandages under her chin. Two of her toes were severed in the fighting.
"We were at home when the bombing started," she told AP Television News. "Seven members of my family were killed."
Khan said villagers told him more than 150 civilians had died, but he said he had no way to know whether that claim was true.
Journalists and human rights workers can rarely visit remote battle sites to verify claims of civilian casualties. U.S. officials say Taliban militants sometimes force villagers to lie and say civilians have died in coalition strikes.
But the villagers' claims Tuesday were bolstered by the wounded at Farah's hospital shown on AP Television News. And Khan's account of several truckloads of bodies taken to Farah city added more weight to the claims.
In remarks Tuesday, Karzai alluded to the problem of civilian casualties without mentioning the bombing deaths. He said the success of the new U.S. war strategy depends on "making sure absolutely that Afghans don't suffer — that Afghan civilians are protected."
"This war against terrorism will succeed only if we fight it from a higher platform of morality," he added in a speech at the Brookings Institution in Washington. Asked later to clarify, Karzai said, "We must be conducting this war as better human beings," and recognize that "force won't buy you obedience."
An Afghan government commission previously found that an August 2008 operation by U.S. forces killed 90 civilians in Azizabad, a finding backed by the U.N. The U.S. originally said no civilians died; a high-level investigation later concluded 33 civilians were killed.
After the Azizabad killings, the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David McKiernan, announced a directive last September meant to reduce such deaths. He ordered commanders to consider breaking away from a firefight in populated areas rather than pursue militants into villages.