KABUL (Reuters) – Ninety-three children and 25 adult women are among a list of 140 names of Afghans who villagers say were killed in a battle and U.S. air strikes last week, causing a crisis between Washington and its Afghan allies.
The list, obtained by Reuters, bears the endorsement of seven senior provincial and central government officials, including an Afghan two-star general who headed a task force dispatched by the government to investigate the incident.
Titled "list of the martyrs of the bombardment of Bala Boluk district of", it includes the name, age and father's name of each alleged victim.
The youngest was listed as 8-day-old baby Sayed Musa, son of Sayed Adam. Fifty-three victims were girls under the age of 18, and 40 were boys. Only 22 were men 18 or older.
The U.S. military continues to dispute the toll and a military spokesman said some of the names could be fake.
The dispute over the number of dead has worsened tension between Washington and Kabul, despite apologiesand Secretary of State made during a visit to Washington by last week.
The Afghan government has endorsed the list, and Karzai went on U.S. television to call for an end to all U.S. air strikes, only to be rebuffed by Washington. Afghan officials say the issue helps insurgents by turning the public against foreign forces.
Since last year, U.S. officials adopted new procedures for investigations of civilian casualties designed to ensure their statements agree with those of the Afghan government.
Nevertheless, Washington has continued to dispute the death toll. U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said villagers had an incentive to invent names of dead relatives in the hope of collecting compensation.
U.S. SAYS NO PROOF
"Well I could give you 140 names too. The problem is there is no evidence of that number of graves ... Are those real people? Did they ever actually exist? I can give you a list of 53 girls names with their ages," he said "There are no birth certificates and there are no death certificates."
"Conditions exist that encourage exaggeration," Julian added.
"If you say that the Taliban killed your family you'd get nothing. If you say the Americans killed your family, you might get assistance, whether they existed or not."
Julian said investigators had been shown 26 individual graves at the site and one mass grave, which he said was not large enough to contain so many bodies. He estimated the overall toll could not exceed 80.
Because of cultural sensitivity, there were no plans to dig up the graves to determine how many were buried inside, he said.
The U.S. military blames the Taliban for causing the deaths deliberately by herding civilians into houses it knew would be targeted by U.S. troops sent to rescue Afghan police and soldiers from an ambush. It also says the Taliban may have killed some of the villagers with grenades.
"Don't forget about who is responsible for this whole thing. This was a deliberate plan to create human sacrifices and then blame us," Julian said.
Karzai told CNN last week that Washington needs to rely on other tactics besides air strikes when it is facingin villages where civilians might be present.
"The air strikes are not acceptable," Karzai said. "Terrorism is not in Afghan villages, not in Afghan homes. And you cannot defeat terrorists by air strikes."
Butsaid on Sunday that U.S. forces need air power to protect themselves: "We can't fight with one hand tied behind our back."