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Australia probes Afghan killings

Lt Gen Mark Evans, courtesy Australian defence ministry website
Gen Evans says Australia does all it can to reduce civilian casualties

Australia is investigating an incident involving its troops in southern Afghanistan in which five children are reported to have been killed.

An official statement said Australian special forces were clearing houses in Uruzgan province in a hunt for militants and came under attack.

They fired back at Taleban insurgents, and five children were among the dead.

Australia's military has about 1,100 soldiers in Afghanistan, based mainly in Uruzgan province.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly urged international forces in the country to try to reduce civilian deaths.

Second probe

The Australian defence department said that the incident took place in the early hours of Thursday and involved its Special Operations Task Group.

Map of Afghanistan
We're taking every measure we can to avoid civilian casualties. It's a pity that the Taleban doesn't do the same
Lt Gen Mark Evans

It said the soldiers had acted "in accordance with their rules of engagement".

The injured were either treated on site or evacuated to medical facilities, the department said.

Australia's chief of joint operations Lt Gen Mark Evans told reporters in Canberra the Australian forces operated "in a very complex environment in Afghanistan".

"The Taleban operate within the civilian community. We do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties and deeply regret the loss of innocent life," he said.

"We're taking every measure we can to avoid civilian casualties. It's a pity that the Taleban doesn't do the same."

Australia already has an investigation under way into allegations that Australian soldiers caused civilian casualties during fighting in Uruzgan in early January.

The killing of civilians by international forces remains one of the key concerns of President Karzai.

Last month, he again called on US-led and Nato troops in his country to do more to reduce civilian casualties.

He said continued civilian deaths would "not bear any progress in the war against terrorism".



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