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Terrorism & Security

Pentagon admits US airstrike may have killed Afghan civilians

But the military said that the estimated death toll of the bombing this week – 100 people – was "grossly exaggerated."

By / May 8, 2009

Afghan villagers sift through the rubble of destroyed houses after airstrikes on Tuesday.

AP

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Pentagon officials say that an American airstrike was at least partially responsible for the deaths of Afghan civilians who were killed during fighting in western Afghanistan Monday, though officials say that initial reports of the death toll were "grossly exaggerated."

The New York Times reports that two Pentagon officials, speaking anonymously, admitted Thursday that at least some of the Afghan civilian deaths Monday were caused by American bombs.

Initial American military reports that some of the casualties might have been caused by Taliban grenades, not American airstrikes, were "thinly sourced," a Pentagon official in Washington said Thursday, indicating that he was uncertain of their accuracy.
"It looks like at least some of the casualties were caused by the airstrikes," the official acknowledged. A second Pentagon official said, "It wouldn't surprise me if it was a mix," but added that it was too soon to tell.

But Agence France-Presse (AFP) reports that Pentagon spokesman Col. Greg Julian said Friday that earlier estimates of the death toll had been "grossly exaggerated." Afghan police told AFP earlier that more than 100 people were killed, including an estimated 25 to 30 insurgents, while other sources had put the count as high as 170 civilians killed. Colonel Julian did not comment on the reports that US forces may have been responsible for at least some of the deaths, however, saying that the investigation of the incident was still ongoing. CNN notes that the investigation is complicated by the fact that the dead have already been buried, in accordance with Islamic practice.

The New York Times also cites two Afghan villagers' descriptions of the fighting Monday.

Fighting broke out when Taliban fighters attacked Afghan Army and police forces at a police checkpoint on the main road some 500 yards from one of the sites that was bombed, said Muhammad Jan, whose village, Shiwan, was bombed.
The fighting did not reach the village or cause casualties there, he said. The Taliban pulled back into the village and then left the area. Later, planes came and bombs fell, but by then no Taliban fighters were in the village....
Jamil Ahmad, who lives in another bombed village, Granai, supported the account. "The battle finished and the Taliban retreated," he said, adding "They did not stay in the villages."
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