America: Afghan Strikes Kill Up to 80 Taliban

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KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – U.S. warplanes struck a Taliban stronghold in southern Afghanistan, killing up to 80 suspected rebels, military officials said Monday. The local governor and a doctor said 17 civilians also were killed.

Wounded villagers at a hospital described how aircraft bombed mud-brick homes where Taliban rebels were hiding, having fled there from a religious school after the airstrikes started. An infant was among the wounded.

With the attack late Sunday and early Monday, as many as 286 militants, Afghan forces, coalition soldiers and civilians have been killed in the storm of violence that erupted Wednesday in the south, according to coalition and Afghan figures.

The escalation of Taliban fighting _ some of the deadliest combat in Afghanistan since the ouster of the Islamic regime in 2001 _ comes ahead of preparations for the U.S.-led coalition to hand over security operations in southern Afghanistan to NATO by July.

There were conflicting death tolls from the recent attack on the village of Azizi, in Kandahar province. The coalition in a statement that it had confirmed 20 Taliban killed, while there were “an unconfirmed 60 additional Taliban casualties.”

U.S. commander Lt. Gen. Karl W. Eikenberry told The Associated Press the military was “looking into” reports of civilian deaths.

U.S. Air Force A-10 Warthogs were used in the attack and are specially designed for close air support of ground forces. U.S. military spokeswoman Lt. Tamara Lawrence confirmed that coalition troops were on the ground during the attack.

The warplane is designed for close air support of ground forces.

At Mirwaise Hospital in the city of Kandahar, a man with bloody clothing said insurgents had been hiding in an Islamic religious school, or madrassa, in the village since the recent fierce fighting.

Aircraft “bombed the madrassa and some of the Taliban ran from there and into people’s homes. Then, those homes were bombed,” said Haji Ikhlaf, 40. “I saw 35 to 40 dead Taliban and around 50 dead or wounded civilians.”

Another villager, Zurmina Bibi, cradled her wounded 8-month-old. She said about 10 people were killed in her home, including three or four children.

“There were dead people everywhere,” she said, crying.

Kandahar Gov. 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.”

A doctor at the hospital, Mohammed Khan, said one of the wounded had died.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Tom Collins said, “It’s common that the enemy fights in close to civilians as a means to protect its own forces.

“We targeted a Taliban compound and we’re certain we hit the right target,” he told AP.

It was not possible for reporters to reach Azizi because police and foreign troops had blocked off the area, about 30 miles southwest of Kandahar.

The village, also known as Hajiyan, has about 30-35 large mud-brick compounds, each housing an extended family with up to 50 members. The village has a mosque and one madrassa, where boys study. It has no electricity and relies on wells for water.

The Taliban resurgence, despite the presence of more than 30,000 foreign troops, including 23,000 from the United States in Afghanistan, has halted postwar reconstruction work in many areas and raised fears for this country’s future.

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

Meanwhile, a war of words between Islamabad and Kabul over the burst of violence escalated, with Pakistani Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Tasnim Aslam saying her country shouldn’t be blamed for the bloodshed.

“The Afghan government’s failure to deal with the situation cannot be placed at Pakistan’s door,” she said at a weekly news conference.

On Sunday, Afghan Foreign Minister Rangeen Dadfar Spanta said in Kabul that Taliban leaders are in Pakistan and that “the movement and the communication during these terrorist attacks” comes from the Pakistan side of the border.


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