KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (Reuters) - A U.S. air strike killed a number of Afghan civilians, officials said on Wednesday, as President Hamid Karzai called on newly elected Barack Obama to make it his priority to stop the killing of innocents.
Scores of civilians have been killed in U.S. air strikes this year leading to seething resentment against the presence of foreign troops and a rift between Karzai and his Western backers.
Karzai referred to the incident in the Shah Wali Kot district in the southern Taliban heartland of Kandahar province.
“By bombing Afghanistan, the war against terrorism cannot be won,” Karzai told a news conference. “As we speak today, we had again civilian casualties ... In Shah Wali Kot of Kandahar we had civilian casualties,” he said.
Karzai did not give any more details but several villagers who had taken a group of wounded to the hospital in Kandahar city said more than 90 people had been killed and dozens more wounded in the air strike Monday, which they said hit a wedding party.
The U.S. military said it was checking reports.
“The coalition and Afghan authorities are investigating reports of non-combatant casualties in the village of Wech Baghtu,” said U.S. forces spokesman Commander Jeff Bender.
“If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologise and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan,” he said in a statement.
The bride was among the wounded brought to the main hospital in Kandahar city, her relative Juma Khan said. The air strike happened during a clash between foreign troops and Taliban insurgents in Shah Wali Kot district, Khan said.
“I can confirm that civilians have been killed. There are many casualties, but I cannot say at this stage how many,” Kandahar governor Rahmatullah Raufi told reporters.
A Reuters witness saw three children with shrapnel wounds and seven wounded women in the hospital.
Karzai requested Obama make it his priority to end civilian casualties.
“The main problem which has become a matter of tension (with the United States) is civilian casualties,” Karzai said. “Civilian casualties should completely stop. The war in the villages of Afghanistan will never give fruit.”
Some 4,000 people, around a third of them civilians, have been killed this year in fighting with the Taliban, who have expanded the scope and scale of their insurgency trying to oust Karzai’s Western-backed government and eject foreign forces.
NATO and U.S.-led coalition troops in Afghanistan say they do their utmost to avoid civilian casualties, but mistakes nevertheless happen. Far more civilians are killed in Taliban attacks, especially by suicide and roadside bombs.
Writing by Sayed Salahuddin; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani