NATO warplanes carried out airstrikes in Helmand province March 25, killing 19 militants and bringing the toll from a four-day operation to 99, the Afghan defence ministry said. (AFP, March 26) Fighting in the region continues to claim the lives of civilians. The UN news agency IRIN interviewed residents of a small village in Helmand’s Gherishk who said family members had been killed by cross-fire in recent clashes, and that they were considering fleeing to Kandahar, the nearest city. Officials denied the claims. “No civilian has been killed or injured in the Gherishk operation,” said Gen. Zahir Azimi, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Ministry of Defense. More than 1,000 civilians were killed or injured in clashes between insurgents and ISAF in Helmand and neighboring provinces in 2006, according to Human Rights Watch, and some 5,000 families have reportedly been displaced in the province since September 2006. (IRIN, March 26)
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