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US Commander: Afghan Civilian Casualties Not from US Forces

By Al Pessin
06 May 2009

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said he has a "distinctly different" version of the incident Sunday in Farah Province, in which some local officials are claiming more than 100 civilians were killed.

General David McKiernan said the provincial governor asked for a U.S. air strike to help Afghan police who were in a long battle Sunday with a fairly large Taliban force, which had beheaded three local officials.

After the battle was over, local residents and the International Committee of the Red Cross claimed there were about two-dozen casualties, but that claim increased as the days went on.

The general said a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation has been launched, and preliminary information indicates the local reports the civilian deaths were caused by the U.S. airstrike are wrong.

"We have some other information that leads us to distinctly different conclusions about the cause of the civilian casualties. I am not going to tell you that right now until I can confirm the facts, but we do have people out there on the ground and will continue to follow this up with our Afghan counterparts to get to the truth," he said.

General McKiernan would not say how he thinks the civilians died, saying he hopes to have the results of the investigation within the next couple of days. But he said the Taliban and other militant groups claim civilian casualties after nearly every engagement, and blame coalition forces.

He said 25 Taliban fighters were killed in the operation. He could not provide an estimate for the civilian casualties, pending the results of the joint investigation.

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