AFGHANISTAN - VIOLENCE

Coalition raid kills 15 Taliban militants in Afghanistan

International forces killed 15 militants in an overnight raid in eastern Afghanistan, said the US military on Saturday, but contrary claims by the regional government insist that at least 10 civilians were also killed in the operation.

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REUTERS - U.S.-led coalition forces killed 15 militants in an operation in eastern Afghanistan overnight, the U.S. military said on Saturday, but a provincial governor said at least 10 civilians were killed in the raid.

 

The issue of civilian casualties is sensitive in Afghanistan and has eroded public support for international troops in the country. It also has driven a wedge between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers.

 

“There was a ground operation targeting a Taliban commander. A number of militants manoeuvred on the force with small arms fire,” U.S. military spokesman Colonel Greg Julian said.

 

Eleven militants were killed by small arms fire while four were killed by close air support, the U.S. military said in a statement.

 

“In an area where there was no threat to civilians, precision air weapons, not bombs, were used,” Julian said.

 

But the governor of eastern Laghman province, where the incident took place, said initial reports showed that 10 civilians were killed during the U.S.-led operation.

 

“We have sent a team to the area to investigate, but the preliminary reports show that 10 civilians were killed as well as three who might be Taliban,” Provincial Governor Lutfullah Mashal told Reuters.

 

Mashal said the operation, in Mehtar Lam district, some 60 km (40 miles) east of Kabul, had not been coordinated with local officials.

 

“The local administration, the police, the ANA (Afghan National Army) and NDS (National Directorate of Security) were not made aware of this incident,” Mashal said. “Nobody was informed and it was not coordinated with us at all.”

 

Earlier, a provincial Afghan official and a village elder told Reuters up to 22 civilians had been killed during the raid, an assertion denied by the U.S. military, which said it had no reports of civilian deaths “at this point”.

 

“Their bodies are on the ground. If you (Afghan government) do not believe us, you have helicopters and you should come to the area and see that these are civilians,” Malik Rahman Gul, a village elder, who said 21 civilain were killed, told Reuters.

 

The U.S. military said it would investigate any claims of civilian casualties.

 

 

 

 

PROTESTS

 

Up to a hundred protesters gathered in the provincial capital to demonstrate against the alleged civilian killings, a Reuters witness said.

 

During the operation, soldiers searched several compounds and identified one of the killed militants as a woman, the U.S. military said, adding that she had been carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.

 

None of the reports could be independently verified.

 

Also on Saturday, a soldier from the NATO-led force was killed by a roadside bomb in the south of the country, the alliance said.

 

In another incident, a soldier from the NATO-led force shot dead a civilian, believed to be burying an explosive device near a military base in the Gereshk district of southern Helmand province on Thursday, the alliance said on Saturday.

 

An investigation revealed the man was a civilian and had not been burying an explosive device, a spokesman for the force said.

 

Separately, one Afghan girl was killed and two were wounded when rockets, fired by insurgents at a NATO-led base, missed their target and landed on a civilian house in the northeastern province of Kunar on Friday, the alliance said.

 

Violence has surged in the war-torn country with around 5,000 people, including 2,000 civilians, killed as a result of the conflict last year alone, aid agencies say.

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