A 'MISDIRECTED US air strike' has killed as many as 120 Afghans, including dozens of women and children. The attack is the deadliest such bombing involving civilian casualties so far in the eight years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan.
Families in two villages in Farah province in western Afghanistan were yesterday left digging for bodies in the ruins of their mudbrick houses.
"There were women and children who were killed," said Jessica Barry, a Red Cross spokeswoman. "It seemed they were trying to shelter in houses when they were hit."
Survivors said the number of dead would almost certainly rise as the search for bodies continued.
The killing of so many Afghan civilians by US aircraft is likely to infuriate Afghans and lead to an increase in support for the Taliban in the bombed area. Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who was meeting US President Barack Obama in Washington yesterday, sent a joint US-Afghan delegation to investigate the incident.
US Marine Special Forces supporting the Afghan army apparently called in the air strike on Tuesday on two villages in Bala Baluk district after heavy fighting with the Taliban.
Accounts by Afghans of high civilian casualties are often denied or dismissed by US officials. But a team from the Red Cross visited the scene of this attack.
"There were bodies, graves, there were people burying bodies when we were there," said Ms Barry. She said a first-aid worker for Afghanistan's Red Crescent died with 13 members of his family.
Rohul Amin, the provincial governor of Farah, said "the dead numbered over 100". Villagers brought 30 bodies in a truck to Mr Amin in Farah City to prove it had happened.
The Afghan government has made increasingly angry denunciations of the US Air Force for using its massive firepower without regard for ordinary Afghans. Wedding parties have been a frequent target of US bombers in both Iraq and Afghanistan, presumably because they are mistaken for gatherings of militants.
The air strike appears to have been deadlier for civilians than any similar event since the first US intervention in Afghanistan in 2001.
Previously the worst such incident was a US strike on Azizabad in August 2008 when the US originally claimed that no civilians were killed. Afghan and UN investigators concluded that in fact 90 Afghans had been killed.
A high-level American inquiry later admitted that 33 civilians had been killed. Opinion polls in Afghanistan show that backing for the Taliban soars in provinces affected after bombing or shelling kills innocent people. The air strikes were preceded by two days of fighting between Afghan government forces supported by the US and dozens of Taliban fighters.
Farah is a poor province whose people are mostly farmers and where the Taliban has been very active.
Local residents told Afghan officials that when the local police and the Taliban began fighting they put their children, women and elderly men in walled compounds in the village of Gerani, where they thought they would be safe.
After the Azizabad killings last year, the US and Nato forces in Afghanistan were meant to have introduced more stringent rules to safeguard civilians from their strikes. (© Independent News Service)