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Last Updated: Monday, 22 May 2006, 15:38 GMT 16:38 UK
Dozens die in Afghan air strike
A  man injured in the air strike is carried to a Kandahar hospital
One of the injured is rushed to hospital
Dozens of people have been killed in a bombing raid by US-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, officials say.

The governor of Kandahar province said at least 60 Taleban had died in the air strikes in the Panjwayi district.

Sixteen civilians were also killed, he added. US-led forces blamed the Taleban for the deaths, accusing guerrillas of deliberately hiding behind civilians.

The raid follows a dramatic upsurge in fighting in southern Afghanistan over the past week.

Kandahar governor Asadullah Khalid told reporters that 15 civilians were also wounded in Monday's incident.

They started to bomb our village at midnight
Attah Mohammad, eyewitness
Coalition warplanes are said to have dropped bombs on an Islamic religious school or madrassa and homes in which Taleban fighters had taken up position.

Eyewitnesses and local doctors have spoken of at least 30 deaths among civilians, including children.

A BBC reporter who visited a local hospital spoke to villagers injured in the attack.

One said Taleban fighters had taken control of his house to launch missile attacks from the roof, and that many of his family members had died in the raid.


"They started to bomb our village at midnight and continued up to this morning," another eyewitness, Attah Mohammad, told the AFP news agency.

"Helicopters bombed the madrassa and some of the Taleban ran from there and into people's homes," another man, Haji Ikhlaf, told the Associated Press.

"Then those homes were bombed."

Violence escalates

The US military put the number of confirmed Taleban deaths at 20, with possibly another 60 killed.

It says it is aware of reports of civilian casualties and is investigating.

Maj James Yonts said the US-led forces were fighting militants out in the open, but the Taleban retreated into houses in the village.

"Once you start fighting from buildings where civilians are involved, then you are putting those civilians in danger," he told the BBC.

He added that rebel commanders were "responsible for the deaths of those women and children".

The BBC's Alastair Leithead says Panjwayi is a known stronghold of the Taleban and a number of high-ranking militants had recently been captured there.

The US-led coalition in Afghanistan said the purpose of the operation was "to detain individuals suspected of terrorist and anti-Afghanistan activities".

"These individuals were active members of the Taleban network and have conducted attacks against coalition and Afghan forces as well as civilians," it said in a statement.

Officials estimate up to 200 rebels have been killed in the region since last Wednesday, in some of the fiercest fighting since the fall of the Taleban in late 2001.

See the aftermath of the raid in southern Afghanistan


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