JALALABAD, Afghanistan (AFP) – An official investigation has found that US-led air strikes a week ago struck a wedding and killed 47 Afghan civilians, most of them women and children, an official said Friday.
The US-led coalition has steadfastly denied that it killed civilians in the July 6 strikes in the mountains of eastern Nangarhar province, saying only extremist militants had died.
But a nine-member team appointed by President Hamid Karzai to look into the incident found that only civilians were killed in remote Deh Bala district, said the head of the mission, Burhanullah Shinwari.
“We found that 47 civilians, mostly women and children, were killed in the air strikes and another nine were wounded,” said Shinwari, who is also the deputy speaker of Afghanistan’s senate.
“They were all civilians and had no links with Taliban or Al-Qaeda,” he told AFP.
Around 10 people were missing and believed to be still under rubble, he said.
Local officials said earlier the strikes had hit a party of women and children escorting a bride to her groom. The bride was among the dead, they said.
The investigation team — which includes representatives of the defence and interior ministries, parliament and a provincial council — is yet to present its findings to Karzai.
The president ordered them to look into the incident after provincial officials said 27 civilians were killed in the strike.
Another member of the delegation, Mohammad Asif Shinwari, said there were only three men among the dead and the rest were women and children.
“The last body was found yesterday, taking the toll to 47,” he told AFP.
During a visit to the remote and mountainous area on the border with Pakistan, the team was shown bloodied clothes of women and children, he said.
The coalition, in Afghanistan to help the government fight a Taliban-led insurgency, has also been accused of killing more than a dozen civilians in a similar strike strike days earlier in the rugged province of Nuristan, also on the border.
The force also rejects the allegation, saying only militants were killed, but an official from the province told AFP Friday that an investigation found that only civilians had died.
Civilians are regularly caught in the crossfire of the insurgency launched after the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was removed from power in late 2001 in a US-led invasion.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said Wednesday that 250 civilians were killed or wounded in the five days.
This included in the US-led air strikes and a suicide blast outside the Indian embassy in the capital on Monday that killed more than 40 people, including two Indian envoys.