By Jim Loney
KABUL, May 23 (Reuters) - With foreign forces under fire for the deaths of Afghan civilians, NATO said on Wednesday that 85 people, including 40 civilians, have been killed so far this month by the Taliban's improvised explosive devices (IEDs).
In roughly the same period, aerial strikes by U.S.-led coalition forces have killed at least 90 civilians, Afghan officials and witnesses say.
The deaths have sparked angry protests against foreign troops and calls for President Hamid Karzai's resignation.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said 70 of the 85 killed so far this month by IEDs, including suicide attacks and roadside bombs, were Afghans.
Another 250 people, including 118 civilians, were wounded.
"The extremists continue to kill the people of Afghanistan," ISAF Lieutenant-Colonel Angela Billings said.
Accurate civilian casualty figures are difficult to come by in Afghanistan. Battles between NATO and coalition forces and Taliban fighters happen in remote locations.
The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission said on Tuesday about 136 civilians had been reported killed to date this year.
At least 50 were killed in aerial bombardment in the Shindand district of western Herat province during the last two days of April, according to Afghan officials. U.S. officials said more than 130 Taliban fighters had been killed in the area but reported no civilian casualties.
The International Committee of the Red Cross said "dozens of civilians" had been killed in the bombing and 173 homes badly damaged, leaving nearly 2,000 people homeless.
In a battle in the Sangin Valley of Helmand province, at least 40 civilians died in fighting on May 8, witnesses said.
Billings said she had no figures on civilian deaths caused by Western forces.
The U.S.-led coalition and NATO together have nearly 50,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
Criticism over mounting civilian casualties has led Germany to call for a review of the way Western troops operate in Afghanistan. NATO has said it is looking at its tactics.
The issue of civilian deaths is a delicate one for Karzai's U.S.-backed government. Afghans complain of a lack of development despite billions of dollars spent in Afghanistan since the United States ousted the Taliban government in 2001.
After a meeting this week, U.S. President George W. Bush and NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said they would try to reduce civilian deaths but blamed the Taliban for using civilians as human shields.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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