KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it had found convincing evidence that 90 Afghan civilians, most of them children, were killed in air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces in western Afghanistan last week.
The issue of civilian casualties has driven a rift between the Afghan government and its NATO backers with President Hamid Karzai saying earlier this month that air strikes had achieved nothing and had only succeeded in killing ordinary Afghans.
“Investigations by UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men,” U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement.”
The U.S. military has launched an investigation into the incident, after saying it was unaware of any civilians killed in what it said was a single air strike in the Shindand district of western Afghanistan on Friday.
Jets had targeted a known Taliban commander and killed 30 militants, the U.S.-led coalition said.
UNAMA sent its human rights team to the Shindand area to investigate, meeting local officials, elders and villagers.
Afghan and foreign soldiers entered the village of Nawabad in Shindand district around midnight on Aug. 21. Operations lasted several hours and air strikes were called in, the villagers told UNAMA.
“The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others. Local residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims,” the U.N. statement said.
“This is matter of grave concern to the United Nations, I have repeatedly made clear that the safety and welfare of civilians must be considered above all else during the planning and conduct of all military operations,” Eide said.
“The impact of such operations undermines the trust and confidence of the Afghan people in efforts to build a just, peaceful, and law-abiding state.”