U.S. Disputes Afghan Count Of Fatalities

Associated Press
Saturday, May 9, 2009

KABUL, May 8 -- The U.S. military called "extremely over-exaggerated" a report that as many as 147 civilians had died in an incident in western Afghanistan this week involving American forces and the Taliban.

Afghans blame aerial bombing Monday and Tuesday for the deaths and destruction, and President Hamid Karzai, in Washington to meet with U.S. politicians, said in a Friday interview with CNN that his government estimated the number of civilian deaths to be 125 to 130. He called the airstrikes "not acceptable."

U.S. officials, who have suggested that Taliban fighters caused at least some of the deaths, said investigators on a joint U.S.-Afghan team were still analyzing data collected in the villages of Ganjabad and Gerani, in Farah province.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that women and children were among dozens of dead people its teams saw in the two villages. Newly obtained video of the aftermath of the violence showed bloodied bodies of children laid out with other corpses.

Past incidents have drawn immediate outcries from the government, which contends that such killings undermine support for the fight against the Taliban.

The Afghan president has long pleaded with the U.S. military to minimize civilian deaths during its operations.

"We cannot justify in any manner, for whatever number of Taliban, for whatever number of significantly important terrorists, the accidental or otherwise loss of civilians," Karzai told CNN.

In southern Afghanistan, meanwhile, four NATO soldiers and 21 civilians died in a string of insurgent attacks, and an unmanned U.S. aircraft crashed in the central province of Ghazni. A Taliban spokesman said the insurgents had shot down the drone, but a U.S. military spokeswoman ruled out insurgent activity in the area of the crash.

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