Thursday, May 14, 2009

‘95 kids died in US-Taliban clash’

Associated Press
KABUL, May 13: Ninety-five Afghan children are among the 140 people said to have died in a recent US-Taliban battle in western Afghanistan, a lawmaker involved in the investigation into the deaths said on Wednesday. The US military disputed the claim. Afghans blame US airstrikes for the deaths and destruction in two villages in Farah province. American officials say the Taliban kept villagers hostage during the fight and a spokesman said payments to the bereaved offered incentive to exaggerate. The list, which also includes 65 women and girls, was based on the testimony of family members of the victims, said Obaidullah Helali, a lawmaker from Farah and a member of the government's investigative team. The bodies were buried before an investigation took place, and there are no plans to dig them up. If the Afghan toll is correct, it would be the largest case of civilian deaths since the 2001 US-led invasion to oust the Taliban. US military spokesman Col. Greg Julian said: “There is no physical proof that can substantiate” the Afghan list of victims. The US has refused to release a number of people it thinks died in the 4-5 May clash in Farah's Bala Baluk district. Col. Julian said militants are to blame for the deaths because they kept civilians hostage during the fight in the villages of Gerani and Ganjabad. The International Committee of the Red Cross also has said that women and children were among dozens of dead people its teams saw in the two villages, but it did not provide an overall figure. President Hamid Karzai has said the strikes were “not acceptable” and estimated that 125 to 130 civilians died. Afghan members of the delegation investigating the clash delivered condolence payments to victims' families on Tuesday, Helali said. The list of the dead has not yet been made public, but the fact that payments are already being made suggests officials consider the investigation complete. Julian said those payments offered incentive for villagers to report high numbers.
Source: The Statesman 14 may 2009.

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