KABUL, Afghanistan, (AP) – President Hamid Karzai has spoken to President Bush about a recent raid in which Afghan officials accused American forces of killing up to 90 civilians, his office said.
U.S. officials contend at least 30 militants, including a Taliban commander, and no more than seven civilians were killed in the raid in the Shindand district of Herat province.
But Afghan officials, backed by the United Nations mission, insist that over 90 civilians died, including dozens of children.
“President Bush expressed his sorrow and sympathy because of the Shindand incident and shared his sympathy for the people of Afghanistan,” a statement from Karzai’s office said late Wednesday.
It said Bush had a videoconference call with Karzai earlier in the day.
“During this conversation, both presidents discussed about the ways of preventing civilian casualties,” the statement said.
A U.S. Embassy official confirmed the conversation took place but did not provide any details.
The dispute over what happened in Azizabad have soured relations between Karzai and his key backers — the United States and other nations with troops fighting against the Taliban and other militants in Afghanistan.
A U.S. investigation released Tuesday found that up to seven civilians and between 30 and 35 Taliban militants were killed in the operation in Azizabad village in the early hours of Aug. 22.
Gen. David McKiernan, the commander of the NATO-led force in Afghanistan, said in a statement Wednesday that he “concurs with the findings” released by U.S.-led coalition command, whose troops were involved in the raid.
Afghan officials say U.S. special forces and Afghan commandos raided the village while hundreds of people were gathered in a large compound for a memorial service honoring a tribal leader, Timor Shah, who was killed eight months ago by a rival.
The U.S. report released Tuesday said American and Afghan forces approaching Azizabad took fire from militants that “justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close air support to defend the combined force.”
The U.S. said its casualty numbers were determined by observation of militant movements during the engagement and onsite observations immediately after the battle.
Afghan and some Western officials say there is video and photo evidence to prove their assertion that a large number of children were killed during the Azizabad raid. None of that material has been made public yet.
Following the incident, Karzai ratcheted up pressure on Western militaries by ordering a review of whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to use airstrikes or carry out raids in villages. Karzai also called for an updated “status of force” agreement between the Afghan government and foreign militaries.