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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.

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In the disputed attack, it's also possible the airstrike was based on faulty information. The Associated Press writes that Afghan officials said last week's attack casualties from the US being manipulated into bombing civilians who had gathered for a memorial service.

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[Three Afghan officials] said U.S. special forces troops and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival clan.
The officials said the raid was aimed at militants supposed to be in the village, but they said the operation was based on faulty information provided by Shah's rival, who they identified as Nader Tawakal. Attempts to locate Tawakal failed.
Afghans targeted in U.S. raids have complained for years of being pursued based solely on information given by other Afghans who sometimes are business rivals, neighbors with a vendetta or simply interested in generic reward money for anti-government militants.

But FOX News' Oliver North, who accompanied US ground forces involved in the incident, reported that the soldiers came under fire from the Taliban immediately upon arriving at the village. Mr. North, known for his role in the Iran-Contra illegal arms deals during the Reagan administration, wrote that "To us – and the U.S. and Afghan troops we were covering – it appeared as though they were victorious." He also noted "careful treatment of non-combatants" by the commandos.

Despite the conflicting reports, the attack has sparked debate over the role of US airstrikes in Afghanistan and the military relations between the US and Afghanistan. The Economist writes that airstrikes have become a core part of US operations in Afghanistan, largely due to a lack of manpower on the ground, and that as a result, civilian casualties have been rising.

Ever since it bombed the Taliban from power in 2001, America has relied on air power in Afghanistan to make up for a shortage of troops. As the Taliban and other militants have gained strength, America has dropped more bombs, killing more civilians. Usually, as in Azizabad, the strikes are called in by American special forces, who are part of a counter-insurgency force that operates independently from Afghanistan's NATO-led peacekeepers.
According to American military figures, civilian deaths in airstrikes increased from 116 in 2006 to 321 in 2007. Over the same period, the number of American air-raids in Afghanistan increased by a third, and the number of bombs dropped doubled. Afghan officials say that in the past two months at least 165 civilians have been killed in four American airstrikes.