US-Led Strikes Killed 47 Afghan Civilians, Mostly Women and Children

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Agence France Presse

US-Led Strikes Killed 47 Afghan Civilians, Mostly Women and Children

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan - An official investigation has found that US-led air strikes a week ago struck a wedding and killed 47 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, an official said Friday.0711 01 1

The US-led coalition had said that only militants died in the July 6 strikes in the mountains of eastern Nangarhar province. But spokeswoman Lieutenant Rumi Nielson-Green told AFP Friday the force was investigating and regretted the loss of any civilian life.

It is facing similar charges over strikes two days earlier in another border area.

A nine-member team appointed by President Hamid Karzai to look into the Nangarhar incident found that only civilians were killed in remote Deh Bala district, said the head of the mission, Burhanullah Shinwari.

"We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the air strikes and another nine were wounded," said Shinwari, who is also the deputy speaker of Afghanistan's senate.

"They were all civilians and had no links with Taliban or Al-Qaeda," he told AFP.

Around 10 people were missing and believed to be still under rubble, he said.

Local officials said earlier the strikes had hit a party of women and children escorting a bride to her groom. The bride was among the dead, they said.

The investigation team -- which includes representatives of the defence and interior ministries, parliament and a provincial council -- is yet to present its findings to Karzai.

The president ordered them to look into the incident after provincial officials said 27 civilians were killed in the strike.

Another member of the delegation, Mohammad Asif Shinwari, said there were only three men among the dead and the rest were women and children.

"The last body was found yesterday, taking the toll to 47," he told AFP.

During a visit to the remote and mountainous area on the border with Pakistan, the team was shown bloodied clothes of women and children, he said.

The coalition, in Afghanistan to help the government fight a Taliban-led insurgency, has also been accused of killing more than a dozen civilians in a similar strike on July 4 in the rugged province of Nuristan.

The force also rejects the allegation, saying only militants were killed, but an official from the province told AFP Friday that an investigation found that only civilians had died.

"Any loss of civilian life is tragic," said Nielson-Green, the coalition spokeswoman. "We never target non-combatants. We do go to great length to avoid civilian casualties."

Civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire of the insurgency launched after the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that 250 were killed or wounded in five days of military action and militant attacks starting July 4.

This included in the US-led air strikes and a suicide blast outside the Indian embassy in the capital on Monday that killed more than 40 people, including two Indian envoys.

The committee urged all parties in the conflict -- including the international military forces and "armed opposition" -- to take more care, a plea that Karzai has often repeated.

The United Nations said last month that nearly 700 Afghan civilians had lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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