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US-led forces probe Afghan civilian deaths

By Staff
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KABUL, Apr 17 (Reuters) US forces in Afghanistan have launched an investigation into the deaths of seven civilians during an offensive against Taliban and other militants over the weekend, the US military said.

US-led forces used aircraft and artillery to flush out a group of up to 10 suspected insurgents from a house and a cave in the eastern province of Kunar, the military said in a statement late last night.

''After the battle, coalition forces determined that civilians had been caught in the fire. Initial reports indicate that seven civilians were killed and three were wounded near the fighting,'' it said, adding an investigation was underway.

Residents of Kunar said 10 civilians were killed in Saturday's bombing by US troops.

Operations in Kunar and in the southern province of Kandahar were launched after a surge of attacks on Afghan and foreign forces since the Taliban announced a spring offensive last month.

In the latest attack, four policemen were wounded in the southern city of Kandahar today when a remote-control bomb detonated near their vehicle, a Reuters reporter in the city said.

The US military also said a separate investigation had been launched after Afghan police reported they had suffered casualties, possibly as a result of fire from their allies, during an operation with US forces near Kandahar.

''We are investigating the incident and we will work jointly with the government of Afghanistan to determine the events that took place during this fight,'' Brigadier General David Fraser, commander of a multinational brigade in the south, said in a statement today.

Afghan forces and US helicopter gunships killed 41 militants during a raid on a suspected Taliban hide-out in Kandahar province on Friday, the provincial governor said.

The Taliban denied suffering so many casualties.

The governor said six policemen were also killed in the battle and a senior official said at the time casualties were higher as several rockets had mistakenly hit police.

Residents had reported four civilians were also killed.

US-led troops overthrew the Taliban after their leaders refused to hand over al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden, architect of the September 11 attacks on the United States.

Afghans say thousands of civilians have been killed in the war against the Taliban and their allies since then.

REUTERS SI PC1728

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