Sunday, May 10, 2009

Evidence shows Taliban killed some civilians: US military

Investigators have found evidence that Taliban fighters caused civilian casualties in a major battle in which US air strikes are alleged to have killed scores of villagers, the US military said Saturday.

President Hamid Karzai has said that up to 130 civilians, including children and the elderly, were killed in the bombing raids overnight Monday-Tuesday in the western province of Farah.

An investigation by US and Afghan security found Saturday that "a number" of civilians were killed but it was not clear how.

The investigation also found evidence "of non-combatant casualties caused by Taliban fighters? actions," a US military statement said late Saturday.

Doctors at Farah hospital said they had treated 16 patients for flash burns and small lacerations. "Afghan doctors said injuries could have resulted from hand grenades or exploding propane tanks," the statement said.

"Local doctors also confirmed that the Taliban were fighting from the roof tops while forcing the locals to remain in their compounds. Locals receiving medical treatment repeated this information to the doctors several times."

Doctors had also received a call while investigators were present indicating that the Taliban had executed a civilian, the statement said.

The US military says the fighting in the district of Bala Buluk was started by a large number of Taliban, including non-Afghans, who had gathered in two villages and demanded payments from villagers.

"The fighters executed three civilians to trigger a response from the Afghan police that they could ambush," it said.

As the fighting escalated, the Afghan security forces called for help from their international counterparts, including air strikes.

"We regret the loss of any civilian life," said US military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian.

"But we strongly condemn the brutality of the Taliban extremists deliberately targeting Afghan civilians and using them as human shields."

The earlier statement said it was difficult to verify how many people were killed and who they were because the bodies had been buried by the time investigators arrived in the area.

An accurate figure would likely be difficult because of a lack of birth and death certificates among the villagers, Julian said.

Although toll is unclear, the incident appears to be the deadliest in the nearly eight years since 2001, when the United States led the invasion that toppled the Taliban regime and stayed on to fight the extremists.

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