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27 civilians killed in Farah strikes: US.

KABUL (PAN): Disputing a much higher death toll given by the Afghan government,the US military has accepted blame for the killing of around 26 civilians in last month's deadly bombing raids in western Afghanistan.

In a report on the May 4 airstrikes in Farah province, where officials say more than 140 ordinary residents were killed, the US military said the 26 civilian deaths occurred when warplanes were radioed in to pound Taliban positions.

The report hinted the deaths happened during two B-1 bomber bombings that destroyed buildings in Gerani and Ganjabad villages,where the fighters were believed to be hiding.

But ground forces could not determine if civilians were also staying in the houses.

Released on Friday, the report added: "The inability to discern the presence of civilians and assess the potential collateral damage of those strikes is inconsistent with the US government's objective of providing security and safety for the Afghan people." At least 78 guerrillas and five Afghan police officers also perished in the bombardments, the US Central Command (CENTCOM) recalled in the report that said it was impossible to give exact casualty figures.

However,it did not rule out a higher civilian death toll. With a view to containing the collateral damage resulting from counterinsurgency operations, the CENTCOM report promised a shift in tactics.

The US military should be "first with the truth," the report stressed, assuring a follow-up in four months on how the new tactical rules were working. However, it insisted, the airstrikes were an "appropriate means to destroy the enemy threat" during the Farah engagement.

"It is inconsistent with the US governments objective of providing security for the Afghan people to conduct operations that result in their death or wounding, if at all avoidable this investigation does not discount the possibility that more than 26 civilians were killed in this engagement." A day earlier, Defence Secretary Robert Gates renewed the Obama administration's call for US and NATO forces to do all they could to prevent the high collateral damage during operations in Afghanistan.

At a Pentagon news conference, acknowledged: It is clear that we need to do much more to overcome what I believe is one of our greatest strategic vulnerabilities." He stressed the Afghans must be reassured that US and NATO forces were operating in their country as their friends and partners.

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Publication:Pajhwok Afghan News (Kabul, Afghanistan)
Date:Jun 21, 2009
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