U.S.-led airstrikes target Taliban, hit homes

Published July 1, 2007

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan - U.S.-led airstrikes targeting Taliban militants who had attacked NATO forces slammed into civilian homes in southern Afghanistan, killing both civilians and insurgents, Afghan and Western officials said Saturday.

Like most battles in the dangerous and remote regions of Afghanistan, casualty estimates varied widely.

Local government officials said up to 60 civilians and 35 insurgents had been killed in the fighting in Helmand province's Gereshk district late Friday. NATO did not give an estimate of casualties, but one Western military official said privately that about eight civilians had been killed.

It was not possible to independently verify the casualty claims.

The United States acknowledged some civilians were killed after fighters sought shelter in village homes.

The battle in Gereshk district began when Taliban fighters tried to ambush a joint U.S.-Afghan military convoy late Friday before fleeing into the nearby village of Hyderabad for cover, said Mohammad Hussein, Helmand's provincial police chief.

Airstrikes targeted the militants in the village, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk.

Shah said late Saturday that between 50 and 60 civilians and 35 Taliban fighters had been killed. He said the fighters were mostly Arab.

Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said NATO would not fire on positions if it knew there were civilians nearby.