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80 Afghan Civilians Killed by Air Strike
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A recent air strike carried out by international troops deployed in the country at least killed 80 Afghan civilians in Gereshk district of Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, local police said Sunday.

Foreign air forces bombarded a village Friday night in the district, where the troops said some Taliban militants were hiding, district deputy police chief Amanullah told Xinhua.

"So far we have found 80 dead bodies of civilians including women and children," Amanullah said. "The civilian casualties may go on to rise as a search for dead bodies is continuing."

The air strike also killed 35 Taliban fighters, he said.

On Saturday, Gereshk district chief Dur Alishah said 65 civilians and 35 militants were killed in the air strike.

The death toll varied as some media reports said 130 people including civilians and militants were killed, while some even said up to 180 people lost their lives.

It is difficult to verify the sayings independently as the incident occurred in a remote and volatile region.

About 37,000 soldiers of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and 13,000 US-led coalition troops are operating in Afghanistan to hunt down militants.

But they have caused civilian casualties in their operations frequently, critically undermining the Afghan people's support to them.

Coalition forces said in a statement on Saturday that Afghan and coalition forces came under heavy fire from militants on Friday night in Gereshk.

The forces called in coalition and ISAF air support, which destroyed all enemy positions in the engagement, it added.

"After our forces surveyed the area, there are reports of some possible civilian deaths," said the coalition spokesman Chris Belcher. "Remains of some people who apparently were civilians were found among insurgent fighters."

Over 300 Afghan civilians have been killed by foreign troops so far this year, according to Afghan officials, local residents and rights groups.

Foreign forces have complained that Taliban insurgents deliberately mingle themselves with civilians and therefore civilian casualties are caused.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has severely criticized foreign troops this year for their lack of coordination with Afghan forces during their operations.

Due to rising Taliban insurgency, over 2,500 persons, most of whom Taliban militants, have been killed in Afghanistan this year.

(Xinhua News Agency July 2, 2007)

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