KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - Dozens of civilians, including women and children, have been killed in two foreign air strikes in southern Afghanistan, residents and a local member of parliament said on Friday.
One of the raids by NATO hit houses in the Girishk district of Helmand province on Thursday evening, killing up to 50 civilians, a group of some 20 residents reported to journalists in Kandahar, the main city in the south.
Wali Jan Sabri, a parliamentarian from Helmand, said he had credible information that between 50 to 60 civilians had been killed in a battle between the Taliban and NATO forces in Girishk.
He said most of the victims were killed in air strikes.
"Yes, there was a battle ... and most of those killed were from NATO bombardment," he told Reuters.
The district chief of Girishk, Manaf Khan, said more than 20 civilians were killed in NATO bombing when they were trying to flee the battle.
"The fighting was fierce between Taliban and NATO," he told Reuters. "Civilians began to flee and 27 or 28 of them were killed while fleeing NATO bombing. I do not have information about the wounded," he said.
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He later phoned Reuters to say said that 50 Taliban were also killed in the bombing and battle. The Taliban could not be reached for comment.
A spokesman for British forces in Helmand said there was an ongoing operation in the province, but denied there had been any civilian casualties around Girishk.
"We have no reports of any such incidents in Girishk yesterday at all. There have been no people taken to the hospital ... in relation to anything around Girishk," said Lieutenant-Colonel Charlie Mayo.
"Because the Taliban don't wear uniforms like us, as soon as they are killed, they are called civilians, the key is are they male or female and if they are male, what age are they?"
Due to the remoteness of the region it was not immediately possible to verify the information.
Some 2,000 British and Afghan army forces have been conducting an operation in the Upper Girishk valley this week to clear Taliban insurgents from the area.
The second attack hit two houses in the Char Cheno district of neighboring Uruzgan late on Thursday afternoon and killed 15 civilians there, several villagers from the area told reporters by telephone.
© Reuters 2007.