A NATO airstrike Thursday on a village near the embattled provincial capital of Lashkar Gah killed between 25 and 30 civilians, Afghan officials in the area said.
While NATO confirmed that an airstrike had taken place in the area, where Taliban fighters have been battling NATO forces, it said the reports were being investigated and that the command was “unable to confirm any civilian casualties.”
Reliable information on the airstrike — whether it caused the deaths, as local officials and residents reported, and whether the number of civilian deaths was accurate — was elusive. But any substantial civilian death toll would further inflame an Afghan government and public already uneasy over a recent rise in civilian casualties from coalition airstrikes. U.S. commanders have acknowledged the war has been going badly in recent months as the Taliban and al-Qaida have stepped up their campaign of bombings and assassinations.
Residents claiming to have witnessed the airstrike said at least 18 bodies, all women and children — including one only six months old — were pulled from the rubble and taken to the provincial governor’s compound in protest.
At nightfall in Kabul, the Afghan capital, the NATO command issued a statement confirming only that an airstrike had taken place in the Nadali District, northwest of Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province in the southwest. The command said it expected to give more details on Friday.
Local officials and residents of Nadali said Thursday that a bomb had hit three houses in a village in the Loy Bagh District that were sheltering seven families seeking refuge from fighting elsewhere in the district over the past week. Mahboob Khan, the district chief, said in a telephone interview that 18 bodies had been pulled from the rubble, and that as many as 12 other bodies remained buried in the ruins. Khan said the bombing had caused widespread anger among the villagers.
“They’re busy burying their family members now,” he said.
He added: “But tomorrow, they will demand to know why their houses were targeted.”
Khan’s account, and similar ones given by other local officials, could not be verified because reporters were unable to reach the site of the strike. Khan’s compound in Nadali is said to be the only place in the district that is under the control of the government.