US says seven al Qaeda killed in Afghan clash
ASADABAD, Afghanistan, Aug 24: Seven suspected al Qaeda members were killed in a clash in Afghanistan today, the US military said, although Afghan officials said those killed were civilians.
''Seven suspected al Qaeda facilitators were killed today when Afghan and coalition forces conducted an operation on a compound housing suspected terrorists,'' the US military said in a statement.
It did not identify any of those killed in the clash in the eastern province of Kunar.
A US military spokesman, asked what was meant by ''facilitators'', said: ''They are al Qaeda members. We do not know their nationalities''.
The US and Afghan troops were on an operation to capture ''a known al Qaeda facilitator'' linked to attacks on Afghan and coalition troops, the U.S. military said.
''Afghan and coalition forces came under direct fire when approaching the compound and defended themselves with return fire,'' the US military said. A child was also killed and a woman wounded, it said.
Afghan officials said the seven killed in the pre-dawn attack on a house in the Shegal district, to the east of the provincial capital, Asadabad, were civilians.
''These were civilians that were shot dead,'' said senior provincial police official Abdul Saboor Allahyar.
Provincial officials had earlier said seven civilians, including some village elders, were killed in an air strike but Allahyar said they were killed in ground fire.
The US and Afghan troops captured four males from the compound while other ''enemy fighters'' fled, the military statement said. An investigation had been launched to determine the identity of the seven dead, it said.
Kunar is near the border with Pakistan and the Taliban and their Islamic allies, including members of the al Qaeda network, have been active there since U.S.-led troops overthrew the Taliban in 2001.
Pakistan said last week the mastermind of a plot to blow up airliners over the Atlantic, foiled by British police this month, was an al Qaeda member based in Afghanistan. Pakistani press reports said the mastermind was believed to be in Kunar.
Civilian deaths in the war against the Taliban are highly sensitive for foreign forces and for Afghanistan's Western-backed government led by President Hamid Karzai.
The war and its disastrous impact on the economy are among the main issues undermining support for 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.
On Tuesday, NATO forces killed 11 people in the southern province of Kandahar. Villagers said they were civilians but NATO said they were insurgents.
Last week, provincial officials said at least 12 policemen were killed in a coalition air attack in the southeastern province of Paktika.
The coalition said those killed were believed to be militants and it was ready to assist with any investigation.
A resurgent Taliban have unleased a wave of violence this year.
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 since January.