Afghan President condemns killing of 17 civilians in US-led operation

Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Thursday condemned the reported killing of 17 civilians, including women and children, in a US-led coalition operation in eastern Afghanistan, the presidential palace said in a statement.

The US military said on Wednesday that their forces killed 32 Taliban insurgents, including an armed female militant, in an operation that targeted a roadside bomb-making network in Alishing district of Laghman province in eastern Afghanistan, reported dpa.

The military statement said that the combined forces fought the 75 militants barricaded in a compound with small-arms-fire, avoiding air support and artillery fire in order to minimize the potential for civilian deaths.

But a statement issued by Karzai's office said that besides terrorists, "17 civilians including women and children were also martyred in the operation."

President Karzai condemned the incident and said, "The Afghan government has repeatedly made it clear that we want a quick end to these kinds of incidents."

Colonel Greg Julian, US military spokesman in Afghanistan, denied there were any civilian deaths.

"We were very clear on that. There is clear evidence that there was no civilian casualty," he told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.

Afghan government authorities and coalition military officials often differ on numbers of civilians killed in international military operations.

Afghan officials including Karzai repeated their assertion that 90 civilians - mostly children - were killed in a US-led airstrike in Azizabad village in western Herat province in August 2008. The US military finally accepted that around 30 civilians were killed after insisting for weeks that the air raid only left around five civilians dead.

Civilian casualties at the hands of international forces have angered the Afghan public and has become a sensitive issue for the government of Western-backed President Karzai.

Karzai has repeatedly warned that increasing civilian deaths would erode public support for his government and would provoke anti-foreigner sentiments in Afghanistan.

Several demonstration have been staged in Afghan cities and rural areas to condemn the killing of civilians by foreign forces.

Unable to seek revenge independently, many Afghan men in southern and eastern Afghanistan have joined the Taliban ranks after losing members of their families in international military operations, according to Afghan officials.

At least 1,500 civilians were among the 4,000 people killed in the first eight months of 2008, according to United Nations officials in Afghanistan.

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