US-Led Force Kills Eight Civilians in Afghanistan

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Agence France Presse

US-Led Force Kills Eight Civilians in Afghanistan

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KABUL  - Eight civilians being held in a compound by Taliban militants were killed in an air strike by US-led troops during a battle that also left 25 rebel fighters dead, the force said Monday.0811 06Militants had ambushed coalition troops in Uruzgan province on Sunday and then fled into a compound where they held "hostage" 11 civilians, including children, it said in a statement.

"Coalition troops called in close-air support to engage the militants hiding in the structure. They did not have knowledge of non-combatants in the buildings at that time," it said.

"Survivors reported that coalition aircraft dropped a bomb on the enemy position which killed eight of the civilians."

The statement did not say who the civilian victims were, but provincial police chief Juma Gul said a child, an old man and youths were among the dead.

He told AFP only six civilians were killed.

The coalition said that after the battle in the Khas Uruzgan district had ended troops searched the compound and discovered three survivors. They were taken to a coalition base for treatment.

"An anonymous eyewitness told coalition forces that the civilians tried to escape the compound, but the militants beat them and refused to let them leave," it said.

The series of engagements had also left 25 militants dead, the coalition said, adding that militants who had ambushed troops from the compound had used small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

The coalition statement cited Gul, the police chief, accusing the Taliban of using "innocent civilians' homes, taking them by force to attack Afghan and coalition forces."

"If civilians get killed during these attacks, the responsibility falls on the Taliban and their terrorist sponsors," he was quoted as saying.

Mounting civilian casualties caused by international forces who were sent to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban seven years ago have angered Afghans including President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai on Sunday urged his Western military allies to change their strategy in the "war on terror" and target extremist hideouts in neighbouring Pakistan rather villages in Afghanistan where civilians could be killed.

"The war on terrorism is not in Afghan villages," Karzai said.

"Therefore, the use of air force in the war against terrorism in the Afghan villages will have no result but causing civilian casualties."

Scores of civilians have been killed during operations by international forces pounding militants in Afghan villages with the air strikes said to be up 40 percent this year over last.

More than 60 people, mostly women and children, were killed in air raids by international forces targeting rebels in eastern Afghanistan in early July. One of the strikes hit a wedding party.

There have been several other incidents since then, including soldiers shooting civilians in vehicles that do not stop at checkpoints with fears high of suicide car bombs attacks.

Civilian deaths are even higher in Taliban attacks targeting security forces.

The United Nations said in June that nearly 700 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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