17 Afghan Civilians Die in U.S. Strikes

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – American warplanes hunting Taliban fighters bombed a religious school and mudbrick homes in southern Afghanistan yesterday, killing dozens of suspected militants and 17 civilians in one of the deadliest strikes since the Americanled invasion in 2001.

Pickup trucks ferried wounded villagers to a hospital in nearby Kandahar city. One woman, cradling her injured baby, recounted seeing “dead people everywhere” after the nighttime attack.

Taliban violence escalates each spring in Afghanistan with snow melting on mountain passes. But the scale of the assaults – and of American-led coalition response – has been greater this year, as thousands of NATO forces prepare to deploy in the volatile south, the heartland of the ousted Islamic regime.

According to coalition and Afghan figures, the airstrikes brought the death toll of militants, Afghan forces, coalition soldiers, and civilians to as many as 286 since Wednesday.

A coalition statement said it confirmed 20 Taliban killed in the attack on the village of Azizi in Kandahar province late Sunday and early yesterday, while there were “an unconfirmed 60 additional Taliban casualties.” One Afghan villager put the count of Taliban dead at 35-40.

American commander Lieutenant General Karl W. Eikenberry told the Associated Press the military was “looking into” whether civilians also were killed. Afghan officials said 17 civilians died.

General Eikenberry also said there are more Taliban militants and drug traffickers in Afghanistan’s southern provinces this spring than a year ago. Other military leaders have said the militants’ increasing attacks are likely an attempt to show NATO forces – set to assume control of security from American-led troops by July – that the Taliban is a powerful presence.

“The Taliban has suffered extraordinary losses in the last three or four weeks – several hundred Taliban killed in the field,” he said. “We’re the ones that are moving. They’re the ones who are trying to hold.”

American Air Force A-10 Warthogs were used in the attack, an American military spokeswoman, said Lieutenant Tamara Lawrence, who confirmed that coalition troops were on the ground during the attack.

Kandahar’s governor, Asadullah Khalid, said the airstrike killed 16 civilians and wounded 16.”These sort of accidents happen during fighting, especially when the Taliban are hiding in homes,” he said. “I urge people not to give shelter to the Taliban.”

In other violence, a former governor of eastern Paktika province, Mohammed Ali Jalali, was found dead after being kidnapped Sunday, police chief Abdul Rehman Surjung said. Jalali was a tribal elder and Karzai supporter.

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