U.S. probes strike on Afghan civilians

Villagers pray at a mass grave this week after an airstrike in  Afghanistan's Farah province.
A U.S. airstrike likely wounded at least 11 civilians in southwest Afghanistan, a senior U.S. military official said Wednesday.

The U.S. military is investigating following claims by local officials that dozens of Afghan civilians were killed and wounded in the airstrike in Farah province. The preliminary conclusion finds that 11 insurgents were killed and about 11 civilians were wounded, the official said. The chief police commander in Farah, Col. Abdul Ghaphtar Watandar, confirmed that a number of civilians were killed in Tuesday’s coalition military operation. However, he declined to discuss the number of dead and wounded until an investigating commission returns from the area. The United States has sent a team of investigators to the region. “Coalition forces and the Afghan government have received reports of civilian casualties in conjunction with a militant attack on Afghan National Security Forces in Farah province on May 5. A joint investigation will be conducted to determine exactly what happened,” acting U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Wood said in a statement Tuesday night. “The United States deeply regrets any injury or loss of life among innocent Afghans resulting from operations in which its forces are involved.”

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Wood also said, “U.S. and international forces take extensive precautions to avoid loss of life among Afghan civilians as well as international and Afghan forces during operations against insurgents and terrorists.” Tuesday’s strike occurred after U.S. Marines, trying to aid Afghan forces under attack, came under fire themselves. Photos on The Associated Press Web site show what the AP says are wounded civilians and the aftermath of the attack. The U.S. official said he could not verify the photos were of victims of the airstrike under investigation. The senior U.S. military official said this latest round of potential civilian casualties is extremely sensitive because Afghan President Hamid Karzai is in Washington for meetings with U.S. and Pakistani officials. “If it turns out we did kill civilians, this will just set us back further,” the official said.