Afghan probe finds 140 civilians killed in US airstrike

May 16th, 2009 - 6:19 pm ICT by IANS  

Taliban Kabul, May 16 (DPA) The Afghan government Saturday said that its probe found 140 civilians were killed in a US airstrike in western Afghanistan, and confirmed that no chemicals were used during the battle by either sides of the conflict.
The May 3 attack was the deadliest incident involving civilian fatalities since the ouster of the Taliban regime by a US military invasion in late 2001.

The airstrike happened in Gerani village in Bala Bulok district of Farah province, after Taliban militants killed three civilians and three police May 3. US warplanes bombed the area after Afghan officials asked for air support.

An investigation ordered by Afghan President Hamid Karzai was launched in the area and officials led by an Afghan army general visited the affected sites and graveyards, interviewing villagers who lost relatives in the attack, a Defence Ministry statement said.

“There were 140 martyred in the deadly incident and 25 injured,” the statement said.

Following the airstrike, the US military also launched an investigation and acknowledged that “a number of civilians” were killed in the incident, but did not say how many. The US military probe blamed Taliban militants for using the civilians as human shields.

US President Barack Obama and US Defence Secretary Robert Gates apologized for civilian killings in the attack and pledged to use extra measures to prevent them in future.

President Karzai, who has repeatedly lashed out at NATO forces for civilian deaths, called on the US government to halt the airstrikes in populated areas, during his visit of Washington earlier this month. The US military, after initially rebuffing Karzai’s demand, said it was looking for ways to reduce its use of air power.

Civilian casualties during military operations have become a delicate issue in Afghanistan. Karzai has admitted that his repeated demands have strained his relations with some Western countries, including the United States.

Saturday’s statement did not give the breakdown of the victims in Farah, but Obaidullah Hilali, a lawmaker from the province who was member of government’s investigation, had said 95 of those killed were children.

The statement also rejected allegations that chemical substances, possibly white phosphorous, were used by either Taliban or US forces, because doctors in the area said that some of the victims had “unusual” burns.

“The team did not find any sign of chemical weapons’ use in the site,” the statement said, citing army general Shahzada, the head of investigating team.

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