KABUL - America's new ambassador to Afghanistan joined President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday in a surprise visit to the country's west, where a disputed U.S.-Taliban clash earlier this month left scores of civilians dead, an official said.

Karzai and Karl Eikenberry expressed their condolences to the families of those killed in Bala Buluk district during the May 4-5 battle, said Abdul Gafar Watandar.

They both spoke to a gathering of over 1,000 people in the central mosque inside the provincial capital, Watandar said.

Eikenberry's trip appears to be an attempt to soothe tensions that followed the disputed clash.

Afghans blame U.S. air strikes for the deaths and destruction in two villages in Farah's Bala Buluk district. An Afghan government commission said 140 civilians were killed. American officials say the Taliban held villagers hostage during the fight and disputes those figures.

It is unclear exactly how many people died in the fighting and under what circumstances. The Afghan government has paid out compensation to families for 140 dead.

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.

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