KABUL - Ninety-five Afghan children are among the 140 people said to have died in a recent U.S.-Taliban battle in western Afghanistan, a legislator involved in the investigation into the deaths said Wednesday.
The U.S. military disputed the claim saying the graves they saw looked too small to contain so many victims.
Afghans blame U.S. air strikes for the deaths and destruction in two villages in Farah province. American officials say the Taliban kept villagers hostage during the fight, and a spokesman said government payments to the bereaved offered incentive to exaggerate the death toll.
A list of the dead, with names and ages, was compiled by members of an Afghan government commission based on the testimony of villagers who said their relatives had died, said Obaidullah Helali, a legislator from Farah and a member of the government's investigative team. Helali said they consider all those under 18 to be children.
The bodies were buried before the investigation took place, and there are no plans to dig them up. It was not clear how investigators determined that missing relatives had been killed and not simply fled the violence.
The International Committee of the Red Cross has said that women and children were among dozens of dead people its teams saw in scattered in the villages in the immediate aftermath of the bombing. It did not provide an overall figure.
If the Afghan toll is correct, it would be the largest case of civilian deaths since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion to oust the Taliban.
But the U.S. military disputes the number.
U.S. military spokesman Col. Greg Julian said "there is no physical proof that can substantiate" the Afghan list of victims. The U.S. has refused to release a number of people it thinks died in the May 4-5 clash in Farah's Gerani and Ganjabad villages.
President Hamid Karzai has said the air strikes were "not acceptable" and estimated that 125 to 130 civilians died.
Afghan members of the delegation investigating the clash delivered compensation to victims' families Tuesday, Helali said. The payments - $2,000 US for the dead and $1,000 for the wounded - were ordered by Karzai, he said.
The list of the dead has not yet been made public, but the fact that payments have already been made suggests officials consider the investigation complete.
Karzai has long pleaded with the U.S. to minimize civilian deaths during its operations. Past incidents have drawn immediate outcries from the government, which contends that such killings undermine support for the fight against the Taliban.
In eastern Afghanistan, meanwhile, a suicide car bomber killed seven people and wounded 21 on Wednesday outside a U.S. military base, police said.
U.S. forces confirmed the attack, saying four Afghan security guards were killed in the blast and 12 wounded.
There were no casualties among international troops.