AMERICAN-LED forces in southern Afghanistan claimed to have killed up to 80 fighters yesterday in a night-time airstrike on a Taleban stronghold as violence continued to spread in the region.

However, the operation, about 30 miles from the second city of Kandahar, left dozens of civilian casualties. Local authorities said that 16 people had been killed, including women and children, and 16 had suffered serious wounds.

A coalition statement said an investigation was under way into reports of civilian deaths.

Asadullah Khalid, the governor of Kandahar, who visited some of the wounded in hospital, urged villagers not to shelter Taleban fighters. “These sort of accidents happen during fighting, especially when the Taleban are hiding in homes,” he said. The airstrike caused extensive damage in the village of Azizi, in Panjwayi district, which is made up mainly of mud-walled compounds. There is no electricity and water is drawn from a well.


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