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Report: Afghan civilian deaths accidental

May 20, 2009 at 10:03 AM   |   Comments

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KABUL, Afghanistan, May 20 (UPI) -- Results of a military investigation into a recent U.S. airstrike in Afghanistan indicate the bombings killed up to 65 Taliban militants and up to 30 civilians.

The interim report released Wednesday said the civilian deaths were "most likely" accidental, a U.S. military source told CNN. Civilian casualties from the airstrikes have become politically sensitive for the government of Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

The U.S. military Wednesday rejected a charge that about 140 non-combatants were killed in a recent bombing in the Farah province in western Afghanistan, but acknowledged "at least 20-30 civilians may have been killed" during fighting, The New York Times reported.

A statement from U.S. forces in Afghanistan was issued a day after the new American ambassador here, Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry, met with Afghan survivors of the May 4 airstrike, promising that coalition forces would change their tactics to prevent civilian casualties in the future, the Times said.

A review of combat camera footage and cockpit audio recordings indicates three F/A-18s and a B-1 bomber were called to Farah province, where Taliban and Afghan security forces -- backed by coalition troops -- were engaged in heavy ground fighting, CNN reported.

The video "clearly depicts insurgents entering the buildings, which were then targeted in the final strikes of the fight," the U.S. military statement said.

Col. Greg Julian, a U.S. military spokesman, said, "We regret the loss of any civilian life and express our condolences to the families who lost loved ones in this fighting with insurgents firing from and regrouping in villagers' homes."

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