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5 killed in Afghan operation targeting bomb-maker

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[March 14, 2009]  KABUL (AP) -- An overnight raid conducted by U.S. coalition troops and Afghan special forces killed five militants during a mission against the leader of a roadside bomb-making cell south of Kabul, a U.S. spokesman said Saturday.

However, a spokesman for the governor of Logar province said five civilians were killed in the operation.

InsuranceU.S. spokesman Col. Greg Julian denied that claim and said militants fired on the combined force after American and Afghan troops ordered them to surrender.

"They were five armed militants that fired on a joint force ... when they went in to get a targeted individual," Julian said. "They called them out when they arrived, and these guys came out shooting and were killed in the process."

The fact that Afghan special forces were on the raid is a significant step that helps insulate the U.S. military against charges of killing civilians. Afghan troops typically have not taken part in such operations.

After angry condemnations by President Hamid Karzai over the last several months on the issue of civilian deaths, the U.S. recently agreed to put Afghan forces on all of its missions, including sensitive overnight raids conducted by U.S. Special Operations Forces.


Citing information from local Afghan officials, Den Mohammad Darwesh, the spokesman for Logar's governor, said the five killed in Charkh district were civilians - a father and four sons. He said one man and one woman were also wounded.

The spokesman for the Afghan Ministry of Defense couldn't immediately be reached.

Discerning who is and is not a civilian has long been difficult in the Afghan conflict. Militants do not wear any uniforms and many civilians own guns and will fire them when foreign troops enter their villages at night.

Journalists and human rights monitors can rarely travel to remote battle sites to try to confirm information from officials.

Local Afghan officials have been known to falsely claim that civilians were killed in an operation, either under pressure from militants or in hopes that villagers would be able to claim payment from the U.S. or Afghan government.

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However, U.S. officials have also been slow to acknowledge when American troops have killed Afghan civilians in past instances.

Close to 3,000 American soldiers arrived in Logar and the neighboring province of Wardak in January to secure the two regions on Kabul's doorstep.

The troops were the first wave of American reinforcements this year. President Barack Obama has said he will send an additional 17,000 American forces to bolster the 38,000 already in the country. The troops will help secure violent regions in the south ahead of presidential elections this fall.

Taliban and other militants have increased attacks the last three years and now control wide swaths of countryside that NATO troops and Afghan forces can't protect.


Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez contributed to this report.

[Associated Press; By JASON STRAZIUSO]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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