U.S. disputes findings of Afghan air strike investigation
The U.S. military disputes allegations by Afghan officials on Wednesday that 95 children were among the 140 people who allegedly died in a recent U.S-Taliban battle.
Military officials said the graves in two western Afghanistan villages were too small to contain that number of victims.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Greg Julian said "there is no physical proof that can substantiate" the Afghan list of victims.
Afghans blame U.S. air strikes for the deaths and destruction in two villages in Farah province last week. But American officials say the Taliban kept villagers hostage during the fight, which ultimately lead to their deaths.
Villagers in Ganjabad told Afghan officials they took children, women and the elderly to compounds to keep them safe. But other witness reports suggest Taliban had used the civilians as shields and herded them into the compounds.
Fighter aircraft later bombed the compounds in an air strike ordered by U.S. marine special operations forces. The majority of the people inside the compounds were killed, according to villagers.
A list of the dead, with names and ages, was compiled by members of an Afghan government commission based on the testimony of villagers who said their relatives had died, said Obaidullah Helali, a legislator from Farah and a member of the government's investigative team. The list is not being made public.
Compensation provided to victims' families
Helali said investigators classified all victims under 18 as children and compensation — up to $2,000 US — has been delivered to the families.
U.S. officials allege the compensation is motivating villagers to increase the death toll.
The bodies were buried before the investigation took place and there are no plans to dig them up, Helali said.
It was not clear how investigators determined how those reported missing were killed or simply fled the area.
With the compensation delivered on Tuesday, the investigation has effectively concluded, officials said, though the investigative team has not officially declared it over.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai has said the air strikes through the night of May 4 were "not acceptable" and estimated that 125 to 130 civilians died.
Following the attack, the International Committee of the Red Cross confirmed that women and children were among the dead that volunteers saw amid the rubble in Gerani and Ganjabad.
The Red Cross did not provide an overall estimate of the number of dead.
With files from The Associated Press