KABUL (Reuters) - The United Nations said on Tuesday it had found convincing evidence that 90 Afghan civilians, most of them children, were killed in air strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces in western Afghanistan last week.
The issue of civilian casualties has driven a rift between the Afghan government and its NATO backers, with President Hamid Karzai saying earlier this month that air strikes had achieved nothing and had only succeeded in killing ordinary Afghans.
“Investigations by UNAMA (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) found convincing evidence, based on the testimony of eyewitnesses, and others, that some 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, 15 women and 15 men,” U.N. Special Envoy to Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement.
The U.S. military has launched an investigation into the incident, after first saying it was unaware of any civilian casualties in what it said was an air strike on a known Taliban commander that killed 30 militants.
The Afghan government on Monday ordered the review of operations by foreign forces amid mounting discontent over civilian casualties nearly seven years after U.S.-led forces toppled the Taliban, the presidential spokesman said.
The order foresees a set of laws to be drafted in consultation with foreign forces and then approved by the Afghan parliament, Humayun Hamidzada told a regular press briefing.
It says the presence of the international community in Afghanistan must be reviewed through mutual agreement and reiterates previous government demands on banning air strikes on civilian targets, un-coordinated house searches and the illegal detention of Afghan civilians.
“The authorities and responsibilities of the international forces in Afghanistan must be regulated through a ‘status of force agreement’ consistent with both international and Afghan laws,” the order says.
Hamidzada did not have a figure for civilian killed in foreign military operations. But he said: “The patience of the Afghan people has ran out. We no longer can afford to see the killing of our children.”
UNAMA said it sent its human rights team to the Shindand area to investigate the latest incident, meeting local officials, elders and villagers.
Afghan and foreign soldiers entered the village of Nawabad in Shindand around midnight on August 21. Operations lasted several hours and air strikes were called in, the villagers told UNAMA.
“The destruction from aerial bombardment was clearly evident with some 7-8 houses having been totally destroyed and serious damage to many others,” the U.N. statement said.
“Local residents were able to confirm the number of casualties, including names, age and gender of the victims.
“This is matter of grave concern to the United Nations, I have repeatedly made clear that the safety and welfare of civilians must be considered above all else during the planning and conduct of all military operations,” Eide said.
Writing by Jon Hemming; Editing by Alex Richardson