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Afghan, Coalition Officials Investigate Claims of Civilian Casualties

American Forces Press Service

KABUL, Afghanistan, Nov. 9, 2008 – Afghan government officials and Afghan and coalition forces traveled Nov. 6 to the Shah Wali Kot district of Afghanistan’s Kandahar province to investigate claims of civilian casualties in recent operations.

Results of the joint investigation to date indicate 37 civilians were killed and 35 others were wounded in a battle after a combined Afghan and coalition patrol was ambushed in the village.

The combined forces met with village elders in Wech Baghtu to discuss the Nov. 3 battle. Village elders told the joint investigation team that insurgents who were not from their village came in large numbers to Wech Baghtu. The elders acknowledged that insurgents fired at Afghan and coalition forces from some of the villagers' homes while using the homes for cover.

The villagers also said that insurgents prevented families from leaving the village, which officials said indicates a deliberate attempt to cause civilian casualties.

The Afghan and coalition forces patrol was taking accurate fire from the high ground, was separated from its relief unit by an improvised roadblock and used close-air support to suppress enemy fire.

One villager reported insurgents moving down a mountain and firing on the combined forces from the roofs of villagers' homes in an attempt to use villagers as human shields. Another villager said he was appreciative of the compensation he received and grateful for a phone call he received from Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan government officials and Afghan and coalition military officials also visited the families of victims in Shah Wali Kot district at a hospital in Kandahar city, Nov. 7. During the hospital visit, condolence payments were distributed to victims and their families. After the families told the combined forces their accounts of the events, a village elder thanked the visitors for addressing their needs.

"Our primary effort is to provide security for the civilian population," said Army Col. Greg Julian, U.S. Forces Afghanistan spokesman. "Civilians getting caught in the crossfire is the worst possible thing that could happen. We regret this tragic loss of innocent lives and express our condolences to the families and to the people of Afghanistan."

(From a U.S. Forces Afghanistan news release.)

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