Airstrikes by NATO helicopters hunting Taliban fighters ripped through three dried mud homes in southern Afghanistan as villagers slept, killing at least nine civilians, including women and children, said residents and the provincial governor.
Shellshocked, angry villagers in Ashogho condemned the attack early on Wednesday, which set back NATO's hopes of winning local support for their tough counter insurgency campaign.
The airstrikes came at about the same time as a rocket struck a house in a village to the west, reportedly killing 13 people.
"I am not Taliban! We are not Taliban!" Gulab Shah shouted by the rubble of the ruined houses in Ashogho.
Kandahar provincial Governor Asadullah Khalid said it appeared that no Taliban fighters were in the village at the time of the airstrikes, which left giant pieces of mud packed with straw scattered along Ashogho's narrow lane.
Bibi Farida, a 6-year-old whose red hair was matted with dirt, fidgeted and bit down on her scarf as she remembered the assault.
Her voice was barely a whisper. "I cried. I just cried."
The 2 am raid in the Zhari district of Kandahar province was only about a kilometre from the scene of September's Operation Medusa, one of the most ferocious battles between Western forces and insurgents since the ouster of the Taliban regime in 2001.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said in a statement that yesterday's operation in Kandahar was believed to have caused several civilian casualties.
The alliance said the operation was meant to detain people involved in roadside bomb attacks in Panjwayi district, which borders Zhari.