SHINDAND, 3 May 2007 (IRIN) - Almost 1,600 families have been displaced and many others need urgent humanitarian assistance two days after US war planes bombed several villages in the Shindand district of the western province of Herat, Afghan officials said. Reports of displacement follow claims that up to 60 civilians may have died in the fighting.
"Hundreds of houses have been destroyed and thousands of people need emergency relief," the director of the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) in Herat, Ghulam Nabi Hakak, told IRIN on Thursday.
The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and some other relief organisations are reportedly working on aid delivery. "Sixty metric tonnes of food items will be dispatched to the affected regions very soon and further aid will be delivered after assessments," said Rick Carsino, WFP's country director for Afghanistan.
Between 27 and 29 April United States Special Forces fighting with the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police killed more than 130 Taliban fighters in the Shindand district, a US military press release reported. During the engagement a coalition aircraft bombed targets and an AC-130 gunship was also called in. According to the military press release "there were no civilian casualties reported".
However, the government of Afghanistan and the United Nations has confirmed reports which say more than 45 civilians, including women and children, died as a result of US military operation in Shindand.
On Tuesday a UNAMA assessment team visited the area to investigate what UN Spokesman Adrian Edwards described as "possible indiscriminate use of force and possible civilian displacement". Edwards says the UN believes figures of up to 49 civilian deaths, including 18 women, are credible.
Others say the figure could be higher, according to AIHRC "about 60 civilians have been killed in the air raids". Bahauddin, a resident of Shindand, said "more than 100 people have been killed all of whom are civilians". IRIN cannot confirm these reports.
IRIN understands that the UN team visited bombed villages, including Polmakan. Sources described the village as "heavily bombed" with eight houses destroyed and with women sitting and crying saying that their children were still under the rubble.
People were still digging bodies out of the rubble of their mud-walled homes on Tuesday afternoon, a spokeswoman for the governor of Herat province confirmed, saying that 52 people were wounded.
Of those, at least 25 wounded individuals have been admitted in Shindand's only hospital, and six more with severe injuries have been taken to a hospital in Herat city, local officials said.
A truck driver from Zerkoh valley who arrived in Herat on Tuesday confirmed to an IRIN reporter that 25 wounded people were taken from Bakhtabad village to Shindand hospital, saying he was the driver who took them there.
While a press release by US forces in Afghanistan says the operation in Shindand was jointly conducted by US Special Forces - operating outside NATO command - and Afghan National Police, a police official in Herat denied the Afghan forces' involvement.
"Unfortunately the operation was not coordinated with us," General Shafiq, a police commander in Herat, contended.
Major Chris Belcher, spokesman for Combined Joint Task Force 82, confirmed that US forces under Operation Enduring Freedom were in command during the engagement. He said other forces, including NATO/ISAF forces, joined in support, and that the Afghan police were also involved.
Major Belcher said the US forces were leading a joint reconnaissance patrol with the Afghan National Police when they were ambushed by around 80-90 insurgents on 27 April. They withdrew but were ambushed again when they returned on 29 April. On both occasions close air support was used.
He said US forces have no official reports of civilian casualties, and they conducted a battle damage assessment following the engagement. However, they are cooperating with ISAF and the Afghan government to investigate other reports of civilian deaths.
In another incident on 27 April US forces raided a house in the eastern province of Nangarhar in which six people were killed and three others, including a woman, have been taken away by the American soldiers.
Hundreds of people marched in the streets of Nangarhar, accusing US forces for killing civilians and using search tactics that harm peoples' cultural values.
Civilians are the major victims of armed conflicts in Afghanistan, prominent Afghan and international human rights watchdogs reported in April.