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U.S. To Look Again At Civilian Deaths In Afghan Raid

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) visits the village of Azizabad in Herat Province earlier this month.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai (right) visits the village of Azizabad in Herat Province earlier this month.

KABUL (Reuters) -- The U.S. military says it plans to reopen an investigation into civilian deaths in a coalition air strike in western Afghanistan last month after new evidence emerged about casualties.

The military had earlier disputed an Afghan government allegation that more than 90 people, many of them women and children, died in the August 22 raid in western Herat's Shindand district, a figure backed by the United Nations.

But late on September7, the military issued a statement saying it was seeking a review of its original finding that five to seven civilians had died in the operation.

"In light of emerging evidence pertaining to civilian casualties in the August 22 counterinsurgency operation in the Shindand district, Herat Province, I feel it is prudent to request that U.S. Central Command send a general officer to review the U.S. investigation and its findings with respect to this new evidence," General David McKiernan, senior U.S. officer in Afghanistan, said. "The people of Afghanistan have our commitment to get to the truth."

Cellphone Videos

He did not say what new evidence had emerged. But "The New York Times" said on September 7 that cellphone videos and other images showed bodies of women and children laid out in the village mosque where the strike occurred.

It said its reporter had seen cellphone images shot by a villager of at least 11 dead children, some apparently with blast and concussion injuries. Ten days after the air strikes, villagers dug up the last victim from the rubble, a baby just a few months old, it said.

An Afghan doctor who runs a clinic in a nearby village told the newspaper he counted 50 to 60 bodies of civilians, most of them women and children and some of them his own patients, laid out in the village mosque on the day of the strike.

The U.S. military said earlier its investigation found that 30 to 35 Taliban militants were killed, including a commander, in the U.S.-led coalition air strike.

It said its findings were based on video taken during the operation and topographic photo comparisons of the area before and after the strikes, including analysis of burial sites in the area.

Reports from local clinics and hospitals were also examined, the military said.

More than 500 civilians have been killed during operations by foreign and Afghan forces against the militants so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups, fueling public anger and driving a wedge between the government and its Western backers.
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