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NATO says troops kill 11 "Taliban ambushers"

Written by: Staff
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KABUL, Aug 23 (Reuters) NATO troops killed eleven Taliban insurgents planning an ambush in southern Afghanistan, while separately, one of four Canadian soldiers wounded in a suicide attack died of his wounds, a NATO spokesman said today.

Residents of the southern province of Kandahar said the eleven people killed by the NATO force late yesterday were not Taliban but ordinary civilians who had been picking grapes.

Afghanistan is going through its bloodiest phase of violence since US-led troops overthrew a Taliban government in 2001. About 2,000 people, most of them militants but including more than 90 foreign troops and scores of Afghan soldiers, police and civilians, have been killed this year.

The NATO-led peacekeeping force said a 15-strong group of Taliban ambushers was spotted near a main road in Kandahar late yesterday.

Upon realising they had been detected, the insurgents moved to a nearby compound, said Major Scott Lundy, a spokesman for the force.

After confirming there were no civilians present, a NATO aircraft dropped a precision-guided bomb on the compound.

''Eleven Taliban were killed in the air strike, while two insurgents were later seen leaving the compound,'' Lundy said.

But civilians in the Zhari area to the west of Kandahar city, said the dead were farmers who had been working in their grape fields in the cool of the evening.

''Those people who died in the bombing were civilians,'' one resident of the area, Ahmad Shapour, said by telephone.

Separately, Lundy said one of four Canadian soldiers wounded in a suicide car-bomb attack in Kandahar city yesterday, had died from his wounds. The others were in stable condition.

Canada has about 2,300 troops in the Afghan south.

CIVILIANS KILLED Lundy also confirmed that a teenager had been shot dead and another wounded in firing by NATO soldiers after the pair, who were riding a motorbike, had ignored soldiers' orders to stop near the scene of the attack.

Civilian deaths in the war against the Taliban are highly sensitive for foreign forces and for the Western-backed government of President Hamid Karzai.

The war and its disastrous impact on the economy are among the main issues undermining support for President Hamid Karzai, who has led the country since shortly after the Taliban were ousted, analysts say.

Karzai last week urged foreign forces to exercise extreme caution while conducting operations against militants.

Today, three civilians were killed in two blasts on a road near Kandahar air base, the main base for foreign troops in the Afghan south, a provincial official said.

In a separate development, about 40 Taliban surrendered with weapons in the western province of Herat, said Sayed Sharif Yousufi, an official with a government body aimed at persuading Taliban to give up.

A similar number surrendered without weapons, he said.

The reconciliation effort has tempted only a trickle of fighters to give up and return to society but Yousufi told reporters contact had been made with several ''high-ranking'' Taliban in Pakistan. He did not elaborate.

REUTERS SHB RN2018

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