11 die in new violence in Afghanistan


KANDAHAR, Afghanistan (AP) – Police and Taliban militants battled Friday in a fresh clash that killed 11 people, while a human rights group estimated that nearly three dozen civilians died this week in a U.S. airstrike on a southern village – double the official toll.

Extending days of stepped-up violence, Taliban rebels ambushed a police patrol in central Ghazni province. The ensuing battle left 10 militants and a policeman dead, local police chief Abdul Rahman Sarjang said.

Abdul Qadar Noorzai, the director of the Kandahar office of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission, said Afghans who had fled their small village of Azizi after the strike by U.S. warplanes this week told him that about 25 family members died in one mud-brick home and that nine others perished in the village’s religious school.

Villagers reported burying about 35 “unknown people,” meaning militants from outside their area, he said, and about 11 civilians were wounded.

The estimate of 34 dead civilians more than doubled the number given by the governor of Kandahar and President Hamid Karzai, who said that 16 had died.

The U.S.-led coalition has said its estimate of civilian deaths was in line with the governor’s. Sgt. Chris Miller, a coalition spokesman, said Friday he wasn’t aware of a new estimate and that the coalition’s figure remained the same.

Haji Ikhlaf, a resident of Azizi who was wounded in the attack, told The Associated Press earlier this week that villagers had buried 26 civilians.

The coalition has said up to 80 militants were killed, although 60 of those fatalities were unconfirmed, in what appeared to be one of the deadliest airstrikes since U.S.-led forces ousted the hard-line Taliban regime in late 2001.

Karzai has called for an investigation and on Wednesday urged the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan to make “every effort” to ensure civilians’ safety.

The U.S. military has said it takes “extraordinary measures” to protect Afghan civilians, but that Taliban militants were firing on coalition forces from inside the villagers’ homes, and that troops had the right to return fire.

Noorzai said he hasn’t been able to visit Azizi to take a survey of the civilian deaths because security forces have cordoned off the area.

Another 13 insurgents and two police died Wednesday in a battle in southern Helmand province’s Sangin district, said local administrator Ghulam Muhiddin. It took two days for news of the battle to emerge due to the remoteness of the battle site.

As many as 365 people, mostly militants, have died in a surge of violence since May 17, according to Afghan and coalition figures. Because of the difficulty of accessing the scenes of combat, those figures could not be independently confirmed.

Militants have increased their attacks in recent months across Afghanistan’s southern and eastern regions near the border with Pakistan. The U.S. military says it has seen an increase in the number of Taliban fighters, particularly in the south.