The NATO-led force denied yesterday it had killed any civilians in an operation in eastern Afghanistan, but a provincial official said 12 people, probably civilians, had been killed in the attack.
US Navy Lieutenant Nico Melendez said a joint Afghan-NATO force killed “several enemy militants” in Laghman Province, northeast of Kabul, and detained others while pursuing a Taliban militant responsible for many suicide attacks in the area.
“No Afghan civilians were harmed during the operation,” Melendez said.
The spokesman for Laghman’s governor, Sayed Ahmad Safi, said 12 people in four houses were killed during the operation, which happened at about 2am.
“We have launched an investigation to find out how many of them were civilians and how many were Taliban,” he said. “It looks that all of them may have been civilians, including women.”
Civilian casualties caused by Western forces have stoked anger towards foreign troops, which NATO commander US General Stanley McChrystal says undermines his mission.
The issue has been a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and foreign troops. Since taking over command in June, McChrystal issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on the use of air power.
Some Afghans are concerned that the influx of 30,000 more US troops ordered by US President Barack Obama last week will result in more attacks and higher civilian casualties.
A NATO air strike in September, ordered by German forces near the northern city of Kunduz, killed 30 civilians as well as insurgents, the Afghan government said.
Germany’s defense minister at the time of the attack was forced to resign from the Cabinet last month over accusations he covered up the civilian toll of the controversial strike.
The head of Germany’s armed forces also quit because of the incident.
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