- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 3, 2008

KABUL, Afghanistan | A U.S. investigation into U.N. and Afghan allegations that dozens of civilians were killed during an operation in a small village found Tuesday that up to seven civilians died but that the overwhelming majority of the dead were Taliban.

An Afghan government commission concluded that 90 civilians were killed in the Aug. 22 fighting in Azizabad - a claim backed by a preliminary U.N. report. The U.S. report Tuesday said 30 to 35 of those killed were Taliban fighters.

The report of civilian deaths in Azizabad has caused new friction between President Hamid Karzai and his Western supporters. Mr. Karzai has long castigated Western military commanders for civilian deaths resulting from their raids.

The U.S. report said American and Afghan forces took fire from militants while approaching Azizabad. The incoming fire “justified use of well-aimed small-arms fire and close air support to defend the combined force,” the report said.

The U.S. said its range in casualty numbers was determined by observation of enemy movements during the engagement and on-site observations immediately after the battle. It said a known Taliban commander, Mullah Siddiq, and five to seven civilians were among the dead. Two civilians were wounded. Five Taliban were detained, the report said.

The report left open the possibility that evidence could emerge to prove that more people died in Azizabad.

“No other evidence that may have been collected by other organizations was provided to the U.S. Investigating Officer and therefore could not be considered in the findings,” the report said.

No conclusive photos or video have been made public to back the claim of 90 civilians killed. However, Nek Mohammad Ishaq, a provincial council member in Herat and a member of the Afghan commission, has said photographs and video of the victims were with Afghanistan’s secretive intelligence service.

The U.S. report said that investigators discovered evidence that the militants planned to attack a nearby coalition base. Evidence collected included weapons, explosives, intelligence materials and an access badge to the base, as well as photographs from inside and outside the base, the report said.

Mr. Karzai ratcheted up pressure on Western militaries after the fighting in Azizabad by ordering a review of whether the U.S. and NATO should be allowed to use air strikes or carry out raids in villages. Mr. Karzai also called for an updated “status of forces” agreement between the Afghan government and foreign militaries.

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