NATO, Taliban clash kills three Afghan civilians

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KABUL, Sep 30 (Reuters) Three Afghan civilians were killed during a clash of NATO-led forces with Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southeastern province of Paktia, the alliance said today.

President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly warned Western forces in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties during operations as it would sap support for his government and would be risky for the presence of the troops there.

The clash broke out yesterday after the Taliban made an abortive ambush on Afghan forces patrol in the area, NATO said in a statement, adding a number of militants were also killed.

''We take the loss of any civilian life seriously,'' said an alliance spokesman, adding it will conduct a full investigation into the events that lead to the deaths of the civilians.

More than 370 civilians have been killed during operations of foreign forces against militants in Afghanistan this year, according to aid groups and Afghan officials.

Violence has surged to its worst level in the past 19 months, the bloodiest period since Taliban's removal from power in 2001.

In the latest incident, three Afghan police were killed, while trying to defuse a remote-controlled bomb in the southern city of Kandahar, officials there said.

REUTERS SG PM1650

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