US military: More than 55 militants killed in Afghanistan

The US military said Monday that its forces killed more than 55 militants and wounded 25 in multiple operations in Afghanistan while hundreds of Afghans protested the killing of two civilians in what they said was a US raid, reported dpa.

A US-led coalition patrol came under attack by a group of militants in the Zerok district of the eastern province of Paktika near the border with Pakistan and called in an attack by ground and air forces, the US military said in a statement.

About 55 militants were killed, including three militant leaders, 25 were wounded and three were detained in Saturday's fighting, the statement said.

Meanwhile, several other militants were killed and 11 were detained in two operations in the southern provinces of Helmand and Ghazni, a separate US military statement said. It did not say if there were coalition casualties.

In another incident, hundreds of villagers gathered at the centre of a town in the eastern province of Nangarhar to protest the deaths of the two civilians, officials said.

A father and his 4-year-old son were killed Sunday night when their house came under rocket fire from a US military helicopter in the Khogyani district, said Haji Zelmai, the district's administrative chief.

He said US forces were conducting an operation against a militant group when they mistakenly hit the villagers' house.

The protesters chanted anti-US slogans and asked the central government to punish the soldiers, said Abdul Raouf Khan, a villager who participated in the demonstration.

"We want the foreign forces to apologize for their action and ask the government to assure us that this kind of action will never happen again," Khan said.

Meanwhile, coalition spokesman Nathan Perry confirmed that a helicopter strike had occurred in the area but denied there were civilian casualties.

A military helicopter had been called in to support troops under attack by militants, he said. The troops had spotted four people planting roadside bombs in the area, he added.

One militant was killed and a cache of roadside bomb-making materials was found and destroyed, Perry said.

"There is no report of civilian casualties," Perry said.

Protesters were assured by the Afghan authorities that their complaints would be taken to the relevant provincial authorities, Zelmai said.

Civilian deaths during the US-led military operations against the Taliban have become a serious concern for the government of Western-backed President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai urged the NATO- and US-led coalition forces, which have about 70,000 troops in the country, to take all measures necessary to avert civilian casualties, warning them that mounting civilian deaths would increase support for the Taliban.

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