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Pentagon disputes reports of 90 Afghan civilians killed in US airstrike

Officials say only five civilians died in last week's attack, but UN, Afghanistan say 60 children died in the strike.

By / August 29, 2008

A Pentagon inquiry has found that a controversial US airstrike in Afghanistan resulted in only five civilians deaths, not the 90 deaths reported by Afghan and UN officials. The disputed death toll has raised tensions between the US and Afghanistan, and has spurred Afghanistan to call for a status-of-forces agreement between the two countries. According to The Washington Post, the Pentagon's investigation concluded that last Thursday's airstrike on an Afghan village killed five civilians and 25 Taliban militants, including a commander.

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"We did not kill up to 90 civilians as has been alleged," one U.S. military official said. The review "comports with our operational understanding" of the events, said the official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.
U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan were expected to present their findings to Afghan government officials – possibly including President Hamid Karzai – at a meeting Thursday, the officials said. The U.S. military planned to propose that the two sides conduct a joint investigation of the incident, they said. ...
The airstrike, which the U.S. military said took place after insurgents ambushed Afghan army commandos and coalition troops during a raid, came as U.S. and NATO forces escalated their reliance upon air power to combat an intensifying Taliban insurgency, in part because of a shortage of ground forces in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon's findings stand in sharp contrast to those of the United Nations issued Tuesday. Kai Eide, special representative of the secretary-general for Afghanistan, said that the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) "found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men. 15 other villagers were wounded or otherwise injured."

[The UNAMA human rights] team met with the District Governor and local elders yesterday. They also interviewed people from a number of households in Nawabad village who confirmed to us that at around midnight on the 21st August, foreign and Afghan military personnel entered the village of Nawabad in the Azizabad area of Shindand district. Military operations lasted several hours during which air strikes were called in. The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others. Local residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.