'Civilians killed' in Nato raids

Scores of civilians have been killed during Nato operations against Taleban fighters in southern Afghanistan, local officials and civilians say. Nato says it is helping Afghan defence officials investigate the reports in Panjwayi district of Kandahar province.

The alliance had "credible reports" of some civilian casualties, but could not confirm reports of 60 dead civilians. It said 48 militants had been killed.

In September Nato said it had routed the Taleban in the area.

'Sorry not good enough'

Reports from Panjwayi district say the Nato raids began on Tuesday, during the Eid al-Fitr festival marking the end of Ramadan, and continued into the night.

They said that several houses were hit, and civilians killed.

Villagers told the BBC Pashto service that the bodies of many locals had been pulled from the rubble of their homes after the raids and buried.

Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman Zmarai Bashiry told the BBC that local police and officials had confirmed more than 40 villagers killed in the Nato raids.

Other officials put the death toll higher.

Panjwayi district chief Niaz Mohammad Sarhadi told the AFP news agency he had reports that about 60 civilians had been killed in the aerial bombardment.

And Kandahar provincial council member Bismallah Afghanmal put the figure at more than 80.

"These kinds of things have happened several times, and they only say 'sorry'. How can you compensate people who have lost their sons and daughters?"

"The government and the coalition told the families that there are no Taleban in the area any more," he told the Associated Press news agency.

"If there are no Taleban, then why are they bombing the area?

Last month, the alliance said it had killed more than 500 militants during Operation Medusa in Panjwayi district.

'Human shields'

A spokesman for the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (Isaf), Maj Luke Knittig, was unable to confirm the high death tolls.

But he told reporters in Kabul: "Very sadly, civilians continue to get caught up in these engagements with tragic results.

"We are helping Afghan leaders there fly over the area to make an assessment," he added.

Nato spokesman Mark Laity told the same news briefing that Taleban fighters often used locals as "human shields", and the alliance made every effort to minimise civilian casualties.

Isaf said late on Wednesday that 48 had been killed in three separate engagements, including air strikes, which took place on Tuesday in Panjwayi district.

A Taleban statement sent to the BBC said none of the movement's fighters had been killed in the Panjwayi clashes, and that any deaths were civilian.

President Hamid Karzai has been under mounting pressure over the civilian death in the south and east, and has urged foreign forces to exercise more caution.

Last week, up to 21 civilians were killed in two Nato operations in Kandahar and neighbouring Helmand province.

In July 2002, a US air strike in Uruzgan province left 46 civilians dead and wounded more than 100, many of whom had been at a wedding party.