- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 9, 2007

12:05 p.m.

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) — Airstrikes called in by U.S. Special Forces soldiers fighting with insurgents in southern Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians, officials said today. One coalition soldier also was killed.

Helmand provincial Gov. Assadullah Wafa said Taliban fighters sought shelter in villagers’ homes during the fighting in the Sangin district yesterday evening, and that subsequent airstrikes killed 21 civilians, including several women and children.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said repeatedly that more must be done to prevent civilian casualties during military operations. He warned last week, after reports that 51 civilians were killed in the west, that Afghanistan “can no longer accept civilian casualties the way they occur.”

The U.S.-led coalition said militants fired guns, rocket-propelled grenades and mortars at U.S. Special Forces and Afghan soldiers on patrol 15 miles north of Sangin.

Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said troops killed a “significant” number of militants.

“We don’t have any report of civilian casualties. There are enemy casualties — I think the number is significant,” Maj. Mitchell said without releasing an exact figure.

More than 200 Taliban fighters gathered during the 16-hour fight, said Maj. Chris Belcher, another coalition spokesman.

A resident of the area, Mohammad Asif, said five homes in the village of Soro were bombed during the battle, killing 38 persons and wounding more than 20. He said Western troops and Afghan forces had blocked people from entering the area.

Death tolls in remote battle sites in Afghanistan are impossible to verify. Taliban fighters often seek shelter in Afghan homes, leading to civilian casualties, and it is often difficult to determine if people killed in such airstrikes were militants or civilians.

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