KABUL, Nov. 5 (Xinhua) -- At
least 40 Afghan civilians have been killed and 28 more injured as an airstrike
of the U.S.-led Coalition forces hit a wedding gathering in southern
Afghanistan's Kandahar province, officials and local villagers said Wednesday.
Afghan children receive treatment at a
local hospital in Kandahar Nov. 5, 2008. (Xinhua/AFP Photo) Photo Gallery>>>
The U.S.-led troops called in gunship helicopters
Monday afternoon to retaliate on militants who earlier that day attacked them at
Wech Baghtu village in Shah Wali Kot district of Kandahar. However, the air
bombing hit a wedding party being held near the hilly area where the Taliban
insurgents' firing came from, according to locals.
Condemning the incident, Afghan President Hamid
Karzai was saddened by "the killing of 40 civilians and injuring of 28 others in
a Coalition air strike," a statement from his office said. "President Karzai has
stressed repeatedly in the past that civilian casualties should be avoided but
the Coalition forces usually carry out bombing without planning."
Haji Roozi Khan, owner of the house where the wedding
ceremony was held, earlier told Xinhua that at least 37 civilians including10
women, 23 children were killed and 35 others including the bride wounded in the
bombing and firing of Coalition forces which lasted from 2 p.m. Monday until
late that night.
A Xinhua reporter at the scene Wednesday afternoon
saw many locals there were still searching the debris for their relatives' dead
bodies. Locals said the casualties' figure was expected to rise.
The Afghanistan-based U.S. forces said it had
initiated an investigation and dispatched coalition personnel to the site.
"Though facts are unclear at this point, we take very seriously our responsibility to protect the people of Afghanistan and to avoid circumstances where noncombatant civilians are placed at risk," said a U.S. military statement.
While congratulating Barack Obama on his victory in
Tuesday's U.S. presidential elections, Afghan President Hamid Karzai called on
the new leadership of the U.S. at a press conference earlier on Wednesday to
prevent from harming civilians in their military operations in Afghanistan,
where some 70,000 U.S. and NATO troops are fighting Taliban and al-Qaeda
"Our first demand is to avoid harming civilians in
Afghanistan," Karzai said.
Civilian killings are sensitive and continuous
happenings in the past years have spurred common Afghans' anger, if not hatred,
towards U.S.-led foreign troops and undermined the popularity of the
Western-backed Karzai administration.
A bloodiest one in years was on Aug. 22 when a U.S.
airstrike in Shindand district of western Herat province, according to the UN
and Afghan government probe, claimed over 90 civilian lives, which prompted the
Afghan cabinet to pass a historic resolution asking for a re-regulation of
foreign troops' presence in the post-Taliban nation.
Afghan villagers pose with a bloody piece of cloth in
Wocha Bakhta, Kandahar Province Nov. 5, 2008.(Xinhua/AFP Photo) Photo Gallery>>>
Though the Afghan authorities repeatedly ask for
better coordinated operations of foreign troops and an end to civilian
casualties, the Western troops, mostly relying on air bombing to fight
insurgents, continue to pound civilian targets, either due to misleading
information, aimless firing, or self-protection in cases of so-called
"escalation of force."
In several reported cases, the result of the probe
done by the foreign troops usually came late and the figure of civilian deaths
they confirmed was much smaller than reported from locals.
Obama, the new U.S. president-elect, has said before
that he, if got elected, will send 7,000 more troops to the Afghan battlefield.
He also threatened to launch uni-lateral attacks across the Afghan border,
conditionally if Pakistan is "unable" or "unwilling" to contain the reported
escalating cross-border militant violence.
Karzai in his Wednesday talk also demanded from the
U.S. a change of its Afghan war strategy, saying, "The war on terror should be
conducted in areas where the sanctuaries of terrorists and their training
The Afghan leader is apparently referring to the
reported militant hideouts in neighbouring Pakistan's northwestern tribal areas,
which he has emphasized must be dismantled for ending insurgency inside his own
The U.S. forces in Afghanistan had conducted several
bombing attacks into Pakistani side which was said to target militants but
sometimes killed civilians. Islamabad categorically condemned the uni-lateral
cross-border attacks, saying it has the capability to handle militants on its