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Page last updated at 00:05 GMT, Sunday, 31 August 2008 01:05 UK

US to back Afghan air raid probe

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The US has agreed to take part in a joint investigation into reports that a recent air raid in western Afghanistan killed more than 91 civilians.

US officials insist most of those killed by the strike, in the western region of Herat, were militants and that only five civilians died.

The probe will be conducted jointly with the UN and the Afghan government.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been increasingly critical of the number of civilians dying in coalition air raids.

Correspondents say Mr Karzai believes the anger felt by many Afghans towards foreign forces in Afghanistan may reduce support for his government.

Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the UN mission in Afghanistan, confirmed the investigation and said it would have to be broad-based.

"We believe this is a right way forward and we will be open and co-operative," he said.

Brig Gen Richard Blanchette, chief Nato spokesman in Afghanistan, told the Associated Press that he hoped the investigation would unfold quickly.

"It is obviously a case where all three [the US, UN and Afghanistan] have received different bits of information and they need to reconcile this," he said.

Confusing reports

A boy stands next to the ruins of his house after a US air strike in western Afghanistan (23/8/2008)

The US military said the air strike took place after a patrol of Afghan and coalition soldiers that had been aiming to arrest Mulla Sadiq, a Taleban commander, came under fire as it approached his compound.

There were conflicting reports about the number of militant and civilian casualties.

The US said 30 militants had been killed and 5 arrested, but Afghan officials later issued a statement saying dozens of civilians had died.

The UN had said that it has "convincing evidence" from eyewitness reports that about 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, and described the situation as "a matter of grave concern to the United Nations".

Correspondents say that casualty figures in the Afghan conflict are often manipulated for propaganda and that the country's insecurity makes independent verification of any claims difficult.



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