KABUL, Afghanistan — An airstrike by U.S.-led forces killed 37 people, most of them children, when it hit a wedding party in Kandahar province in southern Afghanistan, villagers said Wednesday.
President Hamid Karzai said airstrikes cannot win the fight against terrorism. "This is my first demand of the new president of the United States — to put an end to civilian casualties," he said at a news conference held to congratulate Barack Obama.
Karzai said coalition troops called in the attack on a wedding party in the district of Shah Wali Kot.
The U.S. military and Afghan authorities are investigating the attack, the American military said in a statement. There was no confirmation of the airstrike or any death toll. A villager said American forces had given them permission to bury the dead, which he said included 23 children and 10 women.
"If innocent people were killed in this operation, we apologize and express our condolences to the families and the people of Afghanistan," said Cmdr. Jeff Bender in a statement.
Zalmay Ayoby, a spokesman for the governor of Kandahar, said the attack took place Monday afternoon when Taliban and coalition forces engaged in a firefight. An airstrike later hit a compound where the wedding party was being held.
Civilian casualties have become an inflammatory issue in Afghanistan, particularly after a sharp dispute between Western military commanders and Afghan officials over an American airstrike in the western province of Herat on Aug. 22.
Afghan officials, backed by the United Nations, said about 90 civilians died in that strike. U.S. officials initially said five civilians had been killed and later acknowledged that 33 civilians died.