KANDAHAR, Afghanistan – Airstrikes called in by U.S. Special Forces soldiers fighting with insurgents in southern Afghanistan killed at least 21 civilians, officials said Wednesday. One coalition soldier was also killed.

Helmand provincial Gov. Assadullah Wafa said Taliban fighters sought shelter in villagers’ homes during the fighting in the Sangin district Tuesday evening, and that subsequent airstrikes killed 21 civilians, including several women and children.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly said more must be done to prevent civilian casualties during military operations. He warned last week, after reports that 51 civilians were killed in the west, that Afghanistan “can no longer accept civilian casualties they way they occur.”

The U.S.-led coalition said militants fired guns, rocket propelled grenades and mortars at U.S. Special Forces and Afghan soldiers on patrol 15 miles north of Sangin.

Maj. William Mitchell, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition, said troops killed a “significant” number of militants.

“We don’t have any report of civilian casualties. There are enemy casualties – I think the number is significant,” Mitchell said without releasing an exact figure.


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