Amateur Video Catches US-Taliban Fighting

(APTV)

(APTV)

The U.S. military said Friday that reports that as many as 147 civilians died in fighting involving American forces and the Taliban were "extremely over-exaggerated" and said the investigators were still analyzing the data collected at the site.

Officials said preliminary findings of the joint U.S.-Afghan investigation into the deaths in the villages of Ganjabad and Gerani in the western Farah province could be released as early as Friday, but they have yet to schedule an announcement.

Reports of the large number of civilian deaths come at an awkward time for the Obama administration, as the U.S. steps up its military campaign there while emphasising the importance of non-military efforts to stabilise the country.

A local official said that he collected from residents the names of 147 people killed during fighting on Monday night and Tuesday. If true, it would be the deadliest case of civilian casualties in Afghanistan since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion that ousted the Taliban regime.

But the U.S. military described that toll from the fighting as over the top.

Afghan residents say the destruction was from aerial bombing. U.S. officials have suggested that at least some of the deaths were caused by insurgents, whom the military accuses of using civilians as human shields
when fighting with its forces.

In a video obtained Friday by Associated Press Television News, villagers are seen wrapping the mangled bodies of some of the victims in blankets and cloths and lining them up on the dusty ground.

It was not clear how many bodies were in the room where the video was shot.

The man who shot the video said many of the bodies he filmed in the village of Gerani on Tuesday were in pieces. He spoke on condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution from security agencies.

It was not possible to independently verify the authenticity of the video.

A member of Farah's provincial council who said he helped the joint delegation from Kabul with their examination Thursday, said he collected names of 147 dead - 55 at one site and 92 at another. Khan said
he gave his tally to the Kabul team.

He said villagers told investigators that many of the dead were buried in mass graves of 20 or so people. Investigators did not exhume the bodies, according to Khan.

Villagers said they gathered children, women and elderly men in several compounds near the village of Gerani to keep them away from the fighting, but that the compounds were hit by airstrikes.

The International Committee of the Red Cross has also said that women and children were among dozens of dead
people its teams saw in two villages.

On Thursday, civilians wounded in the attacks were still in hospital in Farah City.

One man who said he survived said he lost all his relatives in the bombings.

"My cousins, uncles, my sister, my nephews they were all there and all of them have been killed, from seven families only four people survived," he said.

But what happened remained a matter of dispute.

President Barack Obama expressed sympathy over the loss of life in a White House meeting on Wednesday with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who contends that such killings undermine support for the fight against resurgent Taliban militants.

U.S. Defence Secretary Robert Gates, whose two-day visit in Afghanistan was overshadowed by the case, offered a new expression of U.S. regret for the deaths but stopped short of taking blame.

Three U.S. defence officials, speaking anonymously, said on Thursday that it is possible the investigators would find a mix of causes for the deaths - that some were caused by the firefight between the Americans and the Taliban, some by the U.S. airstrike and some deliberately killed by Taliban fighters hoping U.S. bombings would be blamed.

In the meantime, Afghanis on the ground can cite with fury a series of US bombing attacks over the past year that have killed and maimed civilians.


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