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Page last updated at 10:01 GMT, Saturday, 24 January 2009

Afghanistan raid leaves 15 dead

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At least 15 people have been killed in an operation by US-led forces in the eastern Afghan province of Laghman.

The US military said all of the dead, including one woman, had been militants who opened fire after its troops surrounded a compound in Mehtar Lam.

Eleven were killed by gunfire; four others by close air support, it added.

However, a spokesman for the Laghman provincial council told the BBC there were civilians among the dead. There has been no independent confirmation.

Last week, Afghan President Hamid Karzai again called on US-led and Nato troops in his country to do more to reduce civilian casualties.

Taleban denial

Early on Saturday morning, US forces surrounded a compound in Mehtar Lam, about 60km (40 miles) east of the capital, Kabul.

The people who were killed today were running around, manoeuvring against our forces, and we killed them
Col Greg Julian
US military spokesman

A Taleban commander wanted for attacks across Afghanistan was believed to be inside.

The US military said its troops were attacked and responded with small arms fire and "precision air weapons", which left 15 militants dead, including a woman who was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade launcher.

"The people who were killed today were running around, manoeuvring against our forces, and we killed them," said Col Greg Julian.

However, the head of the Laghman provincial council, Hamididan Abdul Rahmzai, disputed the US military's account, saying that those killed were innocent civilians, including several women and children.

The Taleban also denied that any of its fighters had been killed.

A spokesman for the governor office said it could not confirm what had happened, but had dispatched a team to the site to investigate.

The US military insists that it goes to considerable lengths to avoid civilian casualties.

But the BBC's Ian Pannell in Kabul says that as the US increases its military presence, it will be increasingly difficult to do so.

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