NATO air raid kills dozens of Taliban-Afghan army

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HERAT, Afghanistan, Nov 6 (Reuters) An air strike by NATO forces has killed dozens of Taliban insurgents in northwestern Afghanistan, the Afghan army said today, and residents reported a number of civilians were also killed.

Since relaunching their insurgency two years ago, the hardline Islamist Taliban have expanded their area of operations to other parts of the country from the Pashtun-dominated south and east where they are strongest.

The last night air strike, backed by Afghan and NATO ground forces, targeted Taliban positions in Badghis province, said defence ministry spokesman Zahir Azimi. He said a senior Taliban commander was among those killed.

Residents in the same area said a number of civilians were also killed and some houses destroyed.

Resident Lal Mohammad said two of his children were killed during the raid. ''We want President (Hamid) Karzai to appoint a delegation to investigate the incident,'' he said.

Azimi denied any civilian casualties and NATO had no immediate comment about the operation.

The Taliban in the area said two militant fighters were killed and 10 wounded in the operation.

Karzai has repeatedly warned Western troops in Afghanistan to avoid civilian casualties as it would sap support for his government and fuel resentment against foreign forces in the country.

Air strikes by NATO and US-led coalition forces have repeatedly been criticised for inflicting heavy civilian losses, Afghan human rights group say.

More than 370 civilians have been killed during foreign forces operations against the insurgents this year, aid groups and Afghan officials say.

REUTERS SS HS1429

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