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Page last updated at 18:01 GMT, Tuesday, 2 September 2008 19:01 UK

US probe finds fewer Afghan dead

A boy stands next to the ruins of his house after a US air strike in western Afghanistan (23/8/2008)
President Karzai has ordered a review of the use of air strikes

A US military investigation has reported that no more than seven Afghan civilians died in fighting and air strikes last month in west Afghanistan.

The US finding contradicts UN and Afghan government investigations that concluded more than 90 civilians were killed in the 22 August operation.

The US military said 30 to 35 militants died in the operation in Herat.

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

'Taleban attack planned'

The US military said it based its findings on video taken during the engagement and of topographic photos taken of the area before and after the fighting, including analysis of burial sites.

Reports from local hospitals were also examined, the military said.

"The investigation found that 30-35 Taleban militants were killed, including evidence suggesting a well-known Taleban commander, Mulla Sadiq, was among them," a US military statement said.

All the men killed in the operation were the employees of the private security company working at the coalition base. So how could they be Taleban?
Mohammad Iqbal Safi, Afghan MP

Five to seven civilians were killed, two were wounded and treated by coalition forces and five militants were detained, the statement added.

The US report said American and Afghan forces came under fire as they neared the village of Azizabad in Shindand district.

The fire was returned and air strikes were called in.

Investigators found evidence that militants in Azizabad were planning an attack on a nearby coalition base, the US report said.

But one of the Afghan investigators, member of parliament Mohammad Iqbal Safi, said all the victims of the fighting were civilians.

"All the men killed in the operation were the employees of the private security company working at the coalition base. So how could they be Taleban," he was quoted as saying by Associated Press news agency.

President Karzai has ordered a review of the use of air strikes following the operation in Azizabad.

The US has offered to conduct a joint inquiry into the incident. It is unclear whether this will appease the Afghan government, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul.

A UN spokesman said it stood behind its conclusion - based on eyewitness reports - that about 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children.

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



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