KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, (AP) -At least 60 civilians were killed during NATO operations in a volatile southern area of Afghanistan earlier this week, two government officials and a civilian said Thursday.
A provincial council member, Bismallah Afghanmal, said 80 to 85 civilians were killed in fighting in the Panjwayi district of Kandahar province on Tuesday. A villager, Karim Jan, said 60 to 70 died.
Another government official who asked not to be named because it would “cause him problems” said at least 60 were killed.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force late Wednesday said its forces killed 48 militants in heavy fighting in Panjwayi on Tuesday. NATO also said it had “credible reports” of civilian casualties, though it said it only knew of four civilians who had been wounded.
The clashes targeted militants attacking NATO’s development efforts in the area, said Maj. Luke Knittig, a ISAF spokesman. Troops used mortar, artillery and air support, the alliance said.
The Afghan Defense Ministry is heading up an investigation into the matter, NATO said.
But Afghanmal said Taliban fighters ran into civilian homes, which were then targeted by NATO forces.
NATO launched a major military operation in the Panjwayi area in September, and the alliance said it killed more than 500 suspected militants during “Operation Medusa,” which the top NATO commander in Afghanistan, Lt. Gen. David Richards, called a “significant success.”
However, there has since been heavy fighting in the area.
“The government and the coalition told the families that there are no Taliban in the area anymore,” said Afghanmal. “If there are no Taliban, then why are they bombing the area?”
The reports of civilian casualties come less than a week after nine civilians were killed by NATO airstrikes a village in nearby Zhari district of Kandahar province.
President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly condemned civilian casualties, and last week urged NATO to take “maximum caution during military operations to avoid harming civilians.”
A spokesman for Karzai declined immediate comment Thursday, and the Interior Ministry said it couldn’t confirm reports of civilian casualties.