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US-led force kills eight civilians in Afghanistan
11. August 2008, 09:59

By Sharif Khoram, AFP
Eight Afghan civilians held hostage by Taliban militants were killed in an air strike by US-led troops during a battle that also left 25 rebel fighters dead, the force said Monday.

Separately, a suicide bomber targeting a NATO convoy in the capital Kabul killed three people, while a Latvian soldier died in a roadside bomb blast in the relatively peaceful north of the country.

The eight civilians were killed after militants ambushed US-led coalition troops in southern Uruzgan province on Sunday and then fled into a compound where they held "hostage" 11 people, including children, a coalition statement said.

"Coalition troops called in close-air support to engage the militants hiding in the structure. They did not have knowledge of non-combatants in the buildings at that time," it said.

"Survivors reported that coalition aircraft dropped a bomb on the enemy position which killed eight of the civilians."

The statement did not say who the civilian victims were, but provincial police chief Juma Gul said a child, an old man and youths were among the dead.

He told AFP only six civilians were killed.

The coalition said that after the battle had ended troops searched the compound and discovered three survivors. They were taken to a coalition base for treatment.

"An anonymous eyewitness told coalition forces that the civilians tried to escape the compound, but the militants beat them and refused to let them leave," it said.

The air strikes also left 25 militants dead, the coalition said, adding that militants who had ambushed troops had used small-arms fire and rocket-propelled grenades.

Mounting civilian casualties caused by international forces who were sent to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban seven years ago have angered Afghans including President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai on Sunday urged his Western military allies to change their strategy in the "war on terror" and target extremist hideouts in neighbouring Pakistan rather than villages in Afghanistan.

Scores of Afghan civilians have been killed during operations by international forces pounding militants in Afghan villages with air strikes said to be up 40 percent this year over last year.

Civilian deaths are even higher in Taliban attacks targeting security forces.

In Kabul on Monday three civilians were killed and 15 people were wounded, including three NATO troops, when a suicide car bomber rammed his vehicle into a NATO military convoy, police said.

"A convoy of vehicles was attacked by a suicide bomber. I believe it hit one of the vehicles in the convoy. It is an armoured vehicle," said Lieutenant Commander Martin Quinn of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF).

A Taliban spokesman, calling AFP from an unknown location, claimed responsibility for the attack.

"We carried out the suicide bombing in Kabul against foreign forces," the rebel spokesman, Zabihullah Mujahed, said.

The attack was the second of the day in the Afghan capital. Earlier, an Afghan police officer was killed and two others were injured in a roadside bomb explosion on the southeastern outskirts of the city.

In the northern province of Maimana meanwhile a Latvian ISAF soldier was killed and three others wounded when their vehicle hit a roadside bomb on Monday, said the Norwegian military, which commands a provincial reconstruction team in the area.

Up to 15 Afghan civilians were also hurt, it said.

The United Nations said in June that nearly 700 civilians had lost their lives in Afghanistan this year, about two-thirds in militant attacks and about 250 in military operations.

The Latvian's death takes to 156 the number of international soldiers to lose their lives in Afghanistan this year, most of them in attacks.

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