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U.N. Says 90 Civilians Killed in Afghan Airstrike

A U.N. human rights team spoke to villagers, local officials and elders to get a name, age and gender of each person reported killed in the Herat province. The team learned that 90 civilians were killed, including 60 children, in airstrikes Friday led by U.S. Special Operations forces and the Afghan army.

The top U.N. official in Afghanistan Kai Eide said in a statement, “This is a matter of grave concern to the United Nations. It is vital that the international and Afghan military forces thoroughly review the conduct of this operation in order to prevent a repeat of this tragic incident,” reported the New York Times.

Pentagon spokesman Bryan Whitman said military commanders in Afghanistan continued to believe the airstrike in Herat “was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target.”

Whitman said there would be a detailed investigation, according to the Washington Post. “This has a lot of people’s interest, and my sense is they want to be thorough and complete. We’re doing it as expeditiously as we can.”

The government of Hamid Karzai has demanded more coordination between Afghan and international security forces and more accountability from U.S. and NATO troops.

Afghanistan’s Council of Ministers called Monday for a halt to aerial bombings and to what it called overly aggressive house raids and illegal detentions.

U.S. forces in Afghanistan have increased their reliance on aerial power since last year, causing a corresponding increase in civilian deaths, the Washington Post reported.

In another report, the United Nations said opium production in Afghanistan fell 6 percent — or 500 tons — from 2007, the sharpest decline since the United States toppled the Taliban regime in 2001.

The amount of land dedicated to grow opium poppies fell 19 percent because of severe drought and the efforts of Afghan governors, tribal elders and religious leaders to persuade farmers to abandon opium crops, reported the Post.

Afghanistan still produces the most opium in the world, and growers in the country have stockpiled enough opium to guarantee large amounts to the international market even if current production recedes, the annual U.N. report cautioned.

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