Sunday, July 8, 2007
KABUL, July 7 -- Afghan elders said Saturday that 108 civilians were killed this week in a bombing campaign in western Afghanistan, and villagers in the northeast said 25 Afghans died in airstrikes.
U.S. and NATO leaders, however, said they had no information to substantiate the allegations.
Government officials who reported the deaths Saturday also could not confirm the claims, which came from dangerous and remote regions inaccessible to journalists and other independent researchers.
"It is a very problematic information environment," said Adrian Edwards, the U.N. spokesman in Afghanistan.
Edwards said the reliability of government reports is crucial to addressing the very real problem of civilian casualties. The United Nations also has not been able to confirm the most recent casualty claims.
Civilian deaths are a recurring problem that Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly deplored. The latest reports come at a time of increasing concern in European capitals over Afghan casualties, an issue that threatens to derail the NATO mission here.
In Farah province in western Afghanistan, Abdul Qadir Daqeq, chief of the provincial council, said elders from the Bala Baluk district delivered a letter to his office saying that 108 civilians, including women and children, were killed in airstrikes Thursday and Friday. Thirty-three insurgents were also reported killed. Eleven policemen were found beheaded on the battlefield.
"The area is under the control of the enemy," Daqeq said. "No one can go to Bala Baluk to find out the exact number of casualties. I cannot go there, human rights officers can't go there, government officials can't go there."
Maj. John Thomas, a NATO spokesman, said that airstrikes were called in to assist Afghan forces in Farah but that officials had "no information" to support the civilian casualty claims. He said there was a "significant effort" to move civilians out of the area before the fighting.
In the northeast, in Konar province, Gov. Shelzai Dedar said villagers told him that 25 civilians had been killed during fighting over the last several days. Two NATO soldiers and two Afghan soldiers were also killed in the fighting, they said. Dedar said 20 insurgents were killed; the Ministry of Defense said 37 were.