US probe finds fewer Afghan civilians killed in US airstrike

The US-led coalition said on Tuesday that its investigation into allegations of heavy civilian casualties during an air raid in western Afghanistan on August 22 had found that 30-35 militants and up to seven civilians were killed in the attack, reported dpa.

The finding contradicts an investigation by an Afghan government team, which said that 90 civilians, including 60 children, were killed in the US military airstrike in Azizabad village in Shindand district of Herat province.

A UN investigative team backed up the higher number provided by Afghan government.

"The (US) investigation found that 30-35 Taliban militants were killed, including evidence suggesting a known Taliban commander, Mullah Sadiq, was among them," the US military said in a statement.

"In addition, five to seven civilians were killed, two civilians were injured," it said.

The contradictory findings could strain relations between President Hamid Karzai's government and his main international backer, the US, which helped topple the Taliban regime in late 2001.

Following the completion of the Afghan government probe late last month, Karzai fired two Afghan army commanders in the western region and his cabinet ordered a review of foreign troops in the country.

While the government investigation called the air raid by US forces "unilateral" and based on wrong information, the US military statement said that Afghan and coalition forces were fired on by the Taliban militants from inside the village during the incident.

"The intensity of the enemy fire justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close-air support to defend the combined force," it said.

It also said that the investigating officer took statements from more than 30 participants, both Afghan and US, in the operation.

"Additionally, the investigating officer reviewed reports made by ground and air personnel during the engagement; video taken during the engagement; reports from local medical clinics and hospitals; intelligence reports; and physical data and photographs collected on the site," it added.

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