A US-led coalition airstrike killed 40 civilians Monday, reported Afghan authorities on Wednesday as President Hamid Karzai condemned the action, dpa reported.
The airstrike took place in the Shah Walikot district of southern Kandahar province on late Monday after a group of militants attacked US-led troops in the area, Rahmatuallah Raoufi, the provincial governor said.
"In an anti-terrorist aerial operation 40 civilians were killed and 28 others wounded," the presidential palace said in a statement, adding that women and children were among those killed.
Eyewitness accounts largely lined up with official statements.
"More than 30 people were killed and several others were wounded," a man named Mohammad, who brought nine wounded relatives to a Kandahar city hospital, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
He said that four members of his family were also wounded in the bombing.
"Several people are still under debris and villagers are trying to bring them out," said Haji Abdul Manan, another villager. He said that his wife and one child were killed in the bombing.
Karzai condemned the attack and demanded that coalition forces take measures to avoid civilian deaths.
"The fight against terrorism cannot be fought in our villages," said Karzai. "Our country is a victim of terrorism and we demand for civilian casualties to be eliminated," the president said.
During a press conference congratulating US president-elect Barack Obama earlier in the day, Karzai said his "first demand from Obama" was to end civilian casualties in Afghanistan.
Taliban spokesman Qari Mohammad Yousif Ahmadi said Taliban fighters kept the Kandahar-Uruzgan highway in Shah Wali Kot district of southern Kandahar province closed for the past two days and killed 13 Afghan and foreign soldiers in a two-day firefight.
Ahmadi, who was talking by phone from an undisclosed location, said that during the fighting the area was bombed by "enemy air forces" killing 35 civilians, including women and children. He said 15 others were wounded.
Civilian casualties have become a great matter of concern for Afghan government officials, who fear that the mounting civilian deaths at the hands of international forces erode public support for their central government.
The US military said in a statement that it was aware of allegations that civilians were killed during operations in the area.
"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan," Jeff Bender, a military spokesman, said in the statement.
"We have dispatched coalition personnel to the site to quickly assess the situation and take actions as appropriate," he said.
Facing shortage of troops on the ground, international forces often rely on use of air power, which often result in civilian deaths.
More than 4,000 people - mostly insurgents but including at least 1,500 civilians - have been killed in the Afghanistan conflict so far this year.
In other news, US Central Command General General David Petraeus came to Afghanistan on Tuesday to take a firsthand look at the war in Afghanistan.
Petraeus met with Afghan Defence Minister Abdul Rahim Wardak on Wednesday to exchange views on how to better battle the resurgent Taliban, who have increased their attacks on Afghan and international forces in the country, General Zahir Azimi, a Defence Ministry spokesman, said.
This is Petraeus' first trip to Afghanistan since he took command of all US military forces in the Middle East and Central Asia on Friday.
In a separate incident, Britain's Ministry of Defence announced on Wednesday that a British soldier was killed during operations in southern Helmand province on Tuesday.
With more than 200 soldiers killed in Afghanistan so far this year, 2008 has become the deadliest year for international forces in the country since the ouster of the Taliban regime in late 2001.