The Afghan president congratulated Barack Obama and called on him Wednesday to halt civilian casualties as villagers said U.S. warplanes bombed a wedding party, killing 37 people – most of whom, they said, were children.
President Hamid Karzai said airstrikes cannot win the fight against terrorism.
“Our demand is that there will be no civilian casualties in Afghanistan. We cannot win the fight against terrorism with airstrikes,” Karzai said. “This is my first demand of the new president of the United States – to put an end to civilian casualties.”
Karzai spoke about the deaths at a news conference held to congratulate Obama on his election victory.
Obama has talked about the issue of civilian deaths in the past. In remarks in August that drew criticism from Republicans, he said: “We've got to get the job done there and that requires us to have enough troops so that we're not just air-raiding villages and killing civilians, which is causing enormous problems there.”
The U.S. military said it was investigating the deaths from bombing of remote Wech Baghtu in the southern province of Kandahar. A villager said American forces had given them permission to bury the dead, which he said included 23 children and 10 women.
A U.S. spokesman, Cmdr. Jeff Bender, added that “if innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences.”
Abdul Jalil, a 37-year-old grape farmer whose niece was getting married, told a reporter at the scene of the bombing that U.S. troops and Taliban fighters had been fighting about a half mile from his home.
Fighter aircraft destroyed his compound and killed 37 people, Jalil said. Karzai's office said the attack killed about 40 people and wounded 28. The bodies were buried before the reporter arrived.
In a statement from his office, Karzai condemned the civilian deaths and urged military forces to avoid Afghan villages and instead concentrate on the “sources” of terrorism, a clear reference to Pakistan.
Civilian casualties, which undermine popular support for the Afghan government and the international mission, have long been a point of friction between Karzai and the U.S. or NATO.
According to an Associated Press count of civilian deaths this year, U.S. or NATO forces have killed at least 275 civilians, while 590 have died from militant-caused violence like suicide bombs.