The United Nations said Tuesday that “convincing evidence” exists that an American-led operation killed 90 civilians. The U.S. military stood by its account that 25 militants and five civilians were killed.
The U.N. sent a team of investigators who relied solely on villagers’ statements in alleging that Friday’s operation, which also included Afghan troops, in the western province of Herat killed “60 children, 15 women and 15 men.”
The U.N. did not provide photos or evidence that its investigators saw any graves, but said that “residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.”
“The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some seven to eight houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others,” the statement said.
Dan McNorton, a spokesman for the U.N. in Kabul, said the investigation is continuing.
The top U.S. coalition commander also has ordered an investigation.
But in Washington, Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said, “I don’t have any information that would suggest that our military commanders in Afghanistan don’t believe, still, that this was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target.”
Afghan officials have said 76 to 90 civilians were killed, and President Hamid Karzai has sacked two of his military officers since the attack. The head of the Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission, Ahmad Nader Nadery, has confirmed reports that a memorial ceremony was being held for a militia commander allied with the police at the time of the attack, and relatives and friends from outside the area were staying overnight in the village.
The U.N.'s allegation of such a large number of civilian deaths could set the U.S., U.N. and the Afghan government on a collision course over the use of military force in Afghan villages, where international troops battle Taliban and Al Qaeda militants daily.
The U.N. statement came a day after Karzai’s government said it would try to exert more control over the way U.S. and North Atlantic Treaty Organization troops operate.
Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers ordered the ministries of defense and foreign affairs to open negotiations with the U.S. and NATO over the use of airstrikes, house searches and the detentions of Afghan civilians. It also called for a status of forces agreement to regulate the troops’ presence.