Karzai: U.S. Airstrike Killed 10 Civilians

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An American airstrike in an Afghan village earlier this month killed 10 civilians, President Hamid Karzai (search) said Saturday.

The U.S. military said it was studying results of an Afghan investigation into the Jan. 17 raid against suspected Taliban (search) leaders in southern Uruzgan province, but maintained that a warplane fired only on armed men.

President Karzai said Interior Ministry officials who traveled to the region some 250 miles southwest of the capital, Kabul (search), established that 10 civilians had died. At the time of the raid, local officials had said that 11 civilians were killed: four men, four children and three women.

"There are casualties unfortunately, according to the report that I have received, of civilians, of children and men and women," Karzai told reporters at his palace.

His spokesman, Jawed Ludin, said the investigation focused only on whether civilians had died, and had no information on whether militants also were killed.

U.S. spokesman Lt. Col. Bryan Hilferty said the military took the concerns of the Afghan government "very seriously," but that he couldn't comment until a review of the report was complete.

At the time, military officials said an AC-130 gunship killed five men leaving a compound in the Char Chino Valley, where it suspected a gathering of midlevel Taliban leaders was going on. The targets escaped.

U.S. officials said the airstrike was called in when armed men moved through the darkness toward special forces troops and Afghan militia who had surrounded the compound.

Hilferty said the men were clearly identified on a videotape shot from the aircraft. "We still believe that we killed five militants," he said.

The fresh allegations come less than two months after 15 Afghan children were killed in two air raids in eastern Afghanistan. Commanders vowed at the time to review operations to avoid any repeat, amid protests from Afghan officials and the United Nations.

Hilferty said a change was made after those incidents, but declined to give details.

"We have stringent rules of engagement so that before we fire on a target we're as certain as humanly possible that it is an enemy combatant," he said.

He claimed there was "relatively little" loss of civilian life in Afghanistan as a result.

Karzai said he had invited relatives of the Uruzgan victims to Kabul to discuss how the government could help them, but made no comment on the bungled operation itself.

American commanders and Afghan officials are trying desperately to improve security in the lawless south and east ahead of planned summer elections, a key step in the drive to stabilize the country.

More than 80 people have been killed in violence since the ratification of a new constitution Jan. 4, including two international peacekeepers killed by homicide bombers this week. Eight U.S. troops were also killed in an explosion at an ammunition dump Thursday, the deadliest day for the American military in Afghanistan since the Taliban were forced from power more than two years ago.