US-led coalition air strikes in southern Afghanistan left at least 30 people, including women and children, killed or wounded, an official said today.
Taliban fighters tried to ambush a joint US-Afghan military convoy in Helmand province’s Gereshk district late yesterday before fleeing into a nearby village for cover, said Mohammad Hussein, the provincial police chief.
Air strikes targeted the militants in the village of Hyderabad, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk.
Shah said 30 to 35 people were killed or wounded but he could not provide an exact breakdown. Villagers reported far more than 30 casualties but those figures were not immediately corroborated by officials. Six houses were also destroyed during the clash, Shah said.
“Right now we do not know the number of Taliban casualties,” Shah said.
Civilians deaths caused by US and Nato-led troops have infuriated Afghans and prompted President Hamid Karzai to publicly condemn foreign forces for carelessness and viewing Afghan lives as “cheap”.
He has urged restraint and better co-ordination of military operations with the Afghan government, while also blaming Taliban for using civilians as human shields.
Major John Thomas, a spokesman for Nato’s International Security Assistance Force, said there are ongoing Nato operations in the region and that there have been several engagements with Taliban fighters.
“We’re investigating further to see what other casualties there might have been there,” he said.
Violence has soared in Afghanistan with more than 2,800 people, mostly militants, killed in fighting this year.
A count by the United Nations and an umbrella organisation of Afghan and international aid groups shows the number of civilians killed by international forces was slightly greater than the number killed by insurgents in the first half of the year.
An AP count based on figures from Afghan and international officials found that militants killed 178 civilians in attacks through June 23 and that Western forces killed 203. The US and Nato say they do not have civilian casualty figures.
In the southern Helmand province’s Sangin district, Nato-led and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban fighters yesterday, leaving 15 militants dead, said Ezatullah Khan, a district chief.
There were no casualties among Nato and Afghan troops, Khan said.
Also in the south, two suspected Taliban were killed while trying to place a homemade bomb on the side of a road in Zhari district of Kandahar province yesterday, said Ghulam Rasool, the district’s police chief.
Three children were also killed yesterday and another wounded when an old rocket they were playing with exploded in Zabul province in the south, said General Yaqoub Khan, the provincial police chief.