KABUL — Bombing runs called in by U.S. forces killed dozens of civilians taking shelter from fighting between Taliban militants and Afghan and international troops, Afghan officials said Tuesday. The U.S. promised a joint investigation.
A provincial councilman said he saw about 30 bodies, many of them women and children, after villages brought them to a provincial capital.
Overall death toll estimates varied widely. Villagers estimated that 70 to more than 100 civilians may have died, according to local and regional officials. But no government official could confirm such a toll.
Civilian deaths have caused increasing friction between the Afghan and U.S. governments, and President Hamid Karzai has long pleaded with U.S. officials to reduce them. Karzai meets with President Barack Obama in Washington today.
In remarks at a Washington think tank Tuesday, Karzai alluded to the problem of civilian casualties without mentioning the bombing deaths. He said the success of the new U.S. war strategy depends on "making sure absolutely that Afghans don't suffer -- that Afghan civilians are protected."
"This war against terrorism will succeed only if we fight it from a higher platform of morality," he added in a speech at the Brookings Institution. "We must be conducting this war as better human beings" and recognize that "force won't buy you obedience."
The latest fighting broke out Monday soon after Taliban fighters -- including Taliban from Pakistan and Iran -- massed in Farah province in western Afghanistan, said Belqis Roshan, a member of Farah's provincial council. Provincial police chief Abdul Ghafar said 25 militants and three police officers died in that battle near the village of Ganjabad in Bala Baluk district, a Taliban-controlled area near Iran.
Villagers told Afghan officials that they put children, women, and elderly men in several housing compounds to keep them safe. But villagers said fighter aircraft later targeted those compounds, killing most of those inside, according to Roshan and other officials.
Col. Greg Julian, top U.S. spokesman in Afghanistan, confirmed that U.S. coalition forces participated in the battle. "We offer our condolences to those affected by today's operations and will immediately investigate the claims to determine what happened," Julian said.