ASADABAD, Afghanistan – NATO announced on Sunday that it will investigate allegations that its forces killed more than 50 civilians during ongoing operations in the restive east of Afghanistan.
The provincial governor of Kunar province, Fazlullah Wahidi, told AFP that military operations and airstrikes have killed 63 people in the past week, alleging most were civilians including 20 women and three elderly men.
They were killed mostly in air raids by NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) against suspected rebels in Kunar, according to Wahidi.
"In total 63 people have died," he said, adding that at least 20 of the civilians killed were women, 27 were males -- the youngest just seven -- and three were elderly men.
The governor said the raids in the province's remote Ghaziabad district were still ongoing and that 13 insurgents were among the dead.
ISAF confirmed an ongoing operation in the troubled region, but said as many as 36 insurgents had been killed. It said it was sending investigators to probe the allegations of civilian deaths.
"We are conducting an immediate assessment of these allegations and will report our findings," said US Army Colonel Patrick Hynes in a statement.
"ISAF reporting and weapons system video shows 36 insurgents, who were carrying weapons, were killed. This operation took place in a very remote valley in Kunar province, over very rugged terrain in the late night/early morning hours," the statement added.
Civilian casualties caused by foreign forces are extremely sensitive in Afghanistan where about 140,000 US-led foreign and Afghan troops are waging a counterinsurgency campaign to tackle a nearly ten-year Taliban-led insurgency.
A human rights watchdog said earlier this month that 2010 was the deadliest year for ordinary Afghans since the US-led invasion of 2001, with more than 2,400 civilians killed.
Taliban and other insurgents were responsible for more than 60 percent of the dead, the report by the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said, blaming the US-led force for 21 percent of the casualties.