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Thursday, 13 February, 2003, 12:55 GMT
US denies Afghan civilian deaths
Graves of bombing victims
2002: A bombed wedding damaged US-Afghan relations
The United States military says it is unaware of Afghan civilian casualties following raids by US planes against suspected militants.

Reports say at least 17 civilians, mainly women and children, have died in US bombing in remote Helmand Province since Sunday.

Aircraft have directed at targets that were firing at US forces

Colonel Roger King
US military
A US army spokesman said US aircraft had been operating in an unpopulated area and had fired at targets only after being shot at.

The Afghan Government said it had been unable to confirm the reports of civilian casualties.

But a spokesman for Helmand Province, Haji Wali, told Reuters news agency that local officials in the Baghran valley had reported civilians killed after receiving information from relatives.

On Tuesday, a BBC correspondent in Kandahar spoke to eyewitnesses who said 13 people had been killed after US bombing targeted a civilian area, not caves, in the valley.

No confirmation

Colonel King said US aircraft had directed their fire at targets where there had been firing at US forces.

"Battle damage assessment conducted in support of operation Eagle Fury has not indicated any non-combatant casualties to date," Colonel King told reporters at Bagram airbase, north of Kabul.

He said the operation was taking place in high ground full of caves, and had no details of casulties, if any, among the 30 or so suspected militants.

A spokesman for President Karzai said the government had contacted the authorities in Helmand.

"We have been told there are some civilian casualties but we have been unable to confirm these as the area is sealed of," Tayab Jawad told the French news agency AFP.

Civilian deaths

The operation followed reports that soldiers looking for hidden weapons were attacked on Monday morning with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns.

AC-130
Attacks on suspected militants continue
They sustained no casualties.

About 13,000 US-led coalition troops are in Afghanistan hunting remnants of the Taleban and al-Qaeda network.

In recent weeks there has been an increase in attacks in southern Afghanistan by groups believed to be linked to the Taleban and renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Last July a US Air Force general oversaw an investigation into the mistaken bombing of an Afghan wedding.

Almost 50 civilians were killed and more than 100 injured by the US aircraft in the attack

The US insisted its forces had targeted the area after being fired upon themselves, and put the death toll much lower.


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19 Dec 02 | South Asia
13 Jul 02 | South Asia
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17 Dec 02 | South Asia
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