Afghan investigators say wedding party raids killed 65

News and Press Release
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An Afghan government investigation has found that U.S. coalition air strikes and clashes that hit a wedding party in southern Afghanistan earlier this week killed 37 civilians and 26 Taliban militants.

A team from the Kandahar provincial government said Friday that more than 30 people were wounded in the incident in Shah Wali Kot district on Monday. Residents say Taliban militants ambushed a convoy of international soldiers near a village and then used the villagers as human shields. During the battle that ensued, U.S. forces called in air strikes that also pounded a housing complex where residents were celebrating a wedding.

U.S. and NATO-led operations against militants in Afghanistan have caused scores of civilian deaths this year, prompting growing criticism from Kabul.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has urged U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to make it his priority to stop civilian deaths.

Meanwhile, the Netherlands says a Dutch journalist kidnapped in Afghanistan last week has been released safely. Her abductors identified themselves as Taliban militants when they grabbed her Saturday in Sarobi district about 50 kilometers from Kabul. They had demanded a ransom, but it is not clear whether one was paid in exchange for her freedom.

Her editors say 43-year-old magazine reporter Joanie de Rijke had been working on a story about a recent clash between the Taliban and NATO-led troops that left 10 French soldiers dead.