KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – U.S.-led coalition airstrikes in southern Afghanistan left at least 30 people, including women and children, killed or wounded, an official said Saturday.
Taliban fighters tried to ambush a joint U.S.-Afghan military convoy in Helmand province’s Gereshk district late Friday before fleeing into a nearby village for cover, said Mohammad Hussein, the provincial police chief.
Airstrikes targeted the militants in the village of Hyderabad, said Dur Ali Shah, the mayor of Gereshk.
Shah said 30 to 35 people were killed or wounded but he could not provide an exact breakdown. Villagers reported casualty tolls far higher than 30 but those figures were not immediately corroborated by officials. Six houses also were destroyed during the clash, he said.
“Right now we do not know the number of Taliban casualties,” Shah said.
Maj. John Thomas, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said there are ongoing NATO operations in the region and that there has been several engagements with Taliban fighters.
“We’re investigating further to see what other casualties there might have been there,” he said.
Civilians deaths caused by U.S. and NATO-led troops have infuriated Afghans and prompted President Hamid Karzai to publicly condemn foreign forces for carelessness and viewing Afghan lives as “cheap.”
He urged restraint and better coordination of military operations with the Afghan government, while also blaming Taliban for using civilians as human shields.
Violence has soared in Afghanistan with more than 2,800 people, mostly militants, killed in fighting this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western military and Afghan officials.
A count by the United Nations and an umbrella organization of Afghan and international aid groups shows the number of civilians killed by international forces was slightly greater than the number killed by insurgents in the first half of the year.
An AP count based on figures from Afghan and international officials found that militants killed 178 civilians in attacks through June 23 and that Western forces killed 203. The U.S. and NATO say they don’t have civilian casualty figures.
In the southern Helmand province’s Sangin district, NATO-led and Afghan troops clashed with Taliban fighters on Friday, leaving 15 militants dead, said Ezatullah Khan, a district chief.
There were no casualties among NATO and Afghan troops, Khan said.
Also in the south, two suspected Taliban were killed while trying to place a homemade bomb on the side of a road in Zhari district of Kandahar province on Friday, said Ghulam Rasool, the district’s police chief.
Three children were also killed Friday and another wounded when an old rocket they were playing with exploded in Zabul province in the south, said Gen. Yaqoub Khan, the provincial police chief.