NATO says Taliban wounded Italians in Afghan rescue

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ROME, Sep 26 (Reuters) The NATO-led force in Afghanistan today denied media reports that two Italian intelligence agents freed in a raid this week were wounded by their rescuers, saying their Taliban captors had opened fire on them.

One of the officers is in very serious condition after being shot in the head and neck. He was flown back to Italy on Wednesday. The other suffered lighter gunshot wounds.

The Italian daily Corriere della Sera quoted defence ministry sources on Wednesday as saying that at least one of the bullets that wounded the Italians came from weapons used by the NATO-led forces.

An Italian intelligence source told Reuters the exact circumstances of the rescue mission were being investigated.

The NATO-led force spokesman, Major Charles Anthony, said ''we are not 100 percent sure but quite sure that it was enemy fire, not friendly fire'' that wounded the hostages.

''While they were trying to escape, the Taliban turned back towards their vehicles and opened fire on the hostages,'' said Anthony, speaking by phone from Kabul.

The two officers, members of Italy's 2,200-strong military mission in Afghanistan, were freed in a joint operation by Italian and British forces on Monday, two days after they were abducted.

Nine kidnappers were killed during the raid.

The abduction and the circumstances of the hostages' release have prompted new calls by leftist members of the Italian government for the withdrawal of Italian troops from Afghanistan.

REUTERS JK PM1820

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