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U.S. finds no reason to alter Afghan toll

The American military continues to disagree with higher figures others gave for deadly air attack on a village.

August 29, 2008|From the Washington Post

WASHINGTON — A review by the U.S. military of an airstrike last week in western Afghanistan corroborates its earlier report that 25 militants and five civilians were killed, Pentagon officials said Thursday, a finding that starkly contradicts reports by the United Nations and Afghan officials.

"We did not kill up to 90 civilians as has been alleged" in the village in Herat province, one U.S. military official said. He and others spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

U.S. military commanders in Afghanistan were to present their findings to Afghan government officials, possibly including President Hamid Karzai, the officials said. The U.S. military planned to propose that the two sides conduct a joint investigation of the disputed incident, they said.

The Associated Press reported Thursday that, according to three Afghan officials, U.S. commanders were misled into striking the village. The Afghan officials said the raid was aimed at militants who were supposed to be in the village, but the officials said the operation was based on faulty information provided by the rival of a tribal leader.

The mistaken killing of civilians in airstrikes has long been a sore point between the U.S. military and Karzai, who has previously demanded a halt to airstrikes and other military operations in certain regions.

Senior U.S. military leaders have repeatedly voiced doubt about the credibility of reports that scores of Afghan civilians died in the airstrike.

"I've seen the account stated from both the U.N. and certainly from the Afghan government. I've also seen it . . . discussed that, in fact, that didn't happen," Adm. Michael G. Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a session with reporters Thursday at the Pentagon. Mullen said he had not yet seen the results of the review ordered by Army Maj. Gen. Jeffrey J. Schloesser, who commands U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan as well as U.S. special operations forces that operate in Afghanistan with Afghan army commandos.

Still, Mullen acknowledged that even a single civilian death harms the U.S. effort in Afghanistan.

"We know that when collateral damage occurs, that it really does set us back. So we work exceptionally hard to make sure that doesn't happen," he said.

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