KABUL, May 11 (Reuters) - The U.S.-led coalition confirmed there were civilian casualties during fighting with Taliban guerrillas in southern Afghanistan, after witnesses said an air strike killed more than 40 villagers there earlier this week.
"There are confirmed reports of civilian casualties; however, it is unknown at this time how many..." the U.S.-led coalition said in a statement received on Friday.
Coalition forces treated up to 20 villagers wounded during a 16-hour battle that also involved Afghan army troops in Sangin district of Helmand province on Tuesday, the statement said.
One boy died of his wounds after being evacuated by coalition troops, it said.
Afghan and coalition forces estimate a significant number of Taliban, including a high ranking militant commander, were killed in the battle, the statement added.
Provincial governor Assadullah Wafa said earlier this week that 21 civilians, including women and children, were killed in an air strike carried out by Western forces and he had no reports of Taliban casualties.
Witnesses put the civilian death toll at more than 40 and say the Taliban were not there.
Western forces mounted a large operation against Taliban fighters in Sangin in recent weeks. The district is also a centre of opium production.
Even prior to the latest casualties, scores of civilians have been killed by Western forces in the last two weeks.
With anger already rising among Afghans over the mounting toll, Sangin's residents have called on President Hamid Karzai to come and see for himself how they have suffered.
Karzai has repeatedly urged foreign troops to avoid civilian casualties while hunting militants, to stop searching people's houses, and to coordinate attacks with his government.
Last week, Karzai said the patience of Afghans was running out. On Tuesday, a U.S. military commander apologised for the deaths of 19 civilians, killed by U.S. troops in eastern Afghanistan in March.
- Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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