Afghans, U.S. differ on report of civilian deaths,
KABUL, Afghanistan — Afghan officials said Monday that 52 people were killed in southern Afghanistan on Friday when a rocket fired by coalition forces slammed into a house where women and children had taken shelter from fighting between NATO troops and militants. But U.S. officials disputed the account.
If the toll is accurate, the attack will be one of the worst cases of civilian casualties in the nine-year war. It comes as a leak of thousands of military documents Sunday casts new scrutiny on whether U.S. and coalition forces have taken enough care to avoid civilian deaths and whether the military has reported all of them.
The Afghan government said its information about the reported attack — which took place in the Sangin district of Helmand province, one of the deadliest areas for NATO troops in recent years — came from its intelligence service, the National Directorate of Security.
But late Monday, the U.S.-led military command in Kabul said that an investigation it was conducting with Afghan officials “has thus far revealed no evidence of civilians injured or killed.” However, it was not immediately clear whether the NATO investigative team had reached the scene.
Interviewed by telephone, witnesses from the area where the attack was supposed to have taken place said that on Friday, a U.S. military force engaged Taliban militants in an intense firefight in two remote villages. Taliban fighters warned residents to leave. Many fled to Rigi, a remote village with only half a dozen homes.
Women and children from about eight families were packed into one home, and many of the men took shelter in the forest around the village, they said. About 4:30 p.m., they heard the first of two explosions that blanketed Rigi in smoke as military aircraft flew overhead, the villagers said.
One resident, Mohammed Usman, 57, said he helped pull the bodies of 17 children and seven women from the rubble.
“They have ruined us, and they have killed small children and innocent women,” he said. “God will never forgive them.”
Resident Abdul Samad said, “They targeted an area which we believed was safer.”
He said U.S. forces came to Rigi the next day and said they had fired because they had observed a man carrying a weapon.