A joint US-Afghan investigation has been launched into a raid that US commanders say killed 15 armed militants but that Afghan officials say killed 11 civilians.
The accusation of civilian deaths is the latest in a string of incidents over the last year that have angered Afghan President Hamid Karzai.
A detailed US statement said multiple teams of militants fired on coalition forces during an early Saturday raid against a Taliban commander in Laghman. The US said a woman carrying a rocket-propelled grenade was among those killed.
“The people who were killed were shooting at us,” said Colonel Greg Julian, the top US spokesman in Afghanistan.
However, Sayed Ahmad Safi, the spokesman for the governor of Laghman, said government intelligence reports indicated 11 of the dead were civilians, including three children and two females. Two of the dead were militants, he said.
Abdul Khaliq Hussaini, a member of parliament for Laghman, said he believed 16 people had been killed, including 11 civilians.
Julian said he did not doubt the US version of the battle, but that a joint US-Afghan investigation had been launched to put the reports of civilian deaths to rest.
Meanwhile, British Defense Secretary John Hutton signaled yesterday that he was considering boosting the number of British troops and equipment in Afghanistan.
Speaking to the News of the World tabloid, Hutton said his top priority was protecting British troops against improvised explosive devices used by the Taliban militia, and promised the government “will be making announcements about the issue.”
“We need more specialist experts in the area in theater,” Hutton told the weekly newspaper.
“We are going to deploy a range of equipment and people who are going to provide us with better protection but I’m not going to give the Taliban a heads up about that,” he said.
He promised that the government would do more, adding it would be his “top priority” for the coming year.
The Ministry of Defence in London insisted, however, that no announcement on increased numbers of troops was imminent.
In other developments, police in remote northwestern Afghanistan killed 13 Taliban fighters in a clash triggered by the killings of five civilians by the militants, police said yesterday.
The militants first shot dead a tribal elder and his wife in their home in Badghis Province on Saturday because the man did not agree to collect food and money for them, provincial police chief Mohammed Ayob Niazyar said.
Three more local men were killed and five wounded when residents attacked the rebels, Niazyar said. Police later arrived at the scene and another battle ensued.
“Thirteen of the Taliban have been killed and seven of them were injured in a clash when police arrived at the area,” he said.
The fighting took place near the border with Turkmenistan.
A suicide bomber blew himself up at a market in in Samkanai district of Paktia Province, killing a civilian and wounding eight others on Saturday, an official said yesterday.