A massive three-day battle in southern Afghanistan between NATO and Taliban militants has killed more than 100 people, including insurgents, civilians and police, Afghan officials said Monday.
Lt. Col. Maria Carl, a spokeswoman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said there is "definitely a large engagement that has been going on there," but she could not confirm casualty figures. The Netherlands defense chief said hundreds of Taliban fighters have launched attacks in Uruzgan province, particularly against police posts.
Afghan officials said Taliban fighters sought shelter in civilian homes and that NATO bombers later targeted them. Because of the continued fighting in the province, precise casualty figures were difficult to confirm. Doctors at the province's main hospital were treating at least 30 civilians.
One wounded man at the hospital told The Associated Press that 18 members of his family had been killed.
An official close to the Uruzgan governor, who asked not to be identified because he was talking about preliminary estimates, said 70 to 75 civilians had been killed or wounded in the clashes in Chora district, while more than 100 Taliban and more than 35 police had been killed.
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Mullah Ahmidullah Khan, the head of Uruzgan's provincial council, said the fighting had killed 60 civilians, 70 suspected Taliban militants and 16 Afghan police.
"I have talked to President (Hamid) Karzai and asked him to send helicopters to ferry the wounded to Kabul," Khan said. A presidential spokesman said he had no immediate information.
Maj. John Thomas, an ISAF spokesman, said it was not likely Afghan officials could tell the difference between civilians and militants, suggesting that some of the wounded people claiming to be civilians were insurgents.
Netherlands defense chief Gen. Dick Berlijn told reporters in The Netherlands that a Dutch soldier was killed in a battle that started over the weekend with Taliban fighters near Chora.
Dutch troops had been providing backup to local forces in and around Chora since Saturday, when several hundred Taliban fighters began launching attacks, particularly targeting police posts, he said.
"The town is considered of strategic importance by the Taliban," Berlijn said.
Dr. Hajed Noor, a doctor at Uruzgan's main hospital in the provincial capital, Tirin Kot, said 34 people wounded in the battles had been brought to the hospital, including nine women and seven children. He said his patients reported that many other wounded people were still in Chora district and could not make it to the hospital because of the fighting.
Speaking by phone from a hospital bed, Janu Akha, 62, said bombs hit his village of Qala-i-Ragh on Saturday.
"Eight bombs fell in my village," Akha said. "On Sunday my relatives buried 18 members of my family, including women and children. More than 15 other members of my family are wounded, 10 of whom are women."
Khan said Taliban fighters hid in civilian homes, leading NATO to target them. He labeled those casualties "friendly fire."
He said he went to the Tirin Kot hospital and talked to a man named Gul Mohammad who said 15 members of his family, including women and children, had been killed. "I also saw Manan Jan in the hospital. He had 12 family members killed."
Thomas, the ISAF spokesman, said insurgents don't wear uniforms "and there's no way to distinguish them" from civilians.
"I think if you have a score of people show up at a hospital, then it's conceivable that someone is going to think that they're civilians. We think that the number that they're talking about is probably extremist insurgents. It would be very hard for a local official — unless he knew the people — to tell the difference," Thomas said.
Gen. Qasim Khan, Uruzgan's chief of police said "there are lot of casualties and the fighting is still ongoing."
Another doctor at the hospital, Mohammad Fahim, said: "Most of the people who were killed are still there (in Chora). They are not bringing the bodies here, so that is why we do not know how many have been killed."
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