Troops kill 15 Afghan militants, 3 civilians

/ Source: The Associated Press

U.S.-led coalition troops battling suspected militants in southern Afghanistan lobbed a grenade that destroyed a house and killed 15 militants as well as a woman and two children, the coalition said Monday.

Meanwhile, weekend reports of other violence included the deaths of three policemen and a coalition soldier in separate explosions and raids.

The U.S.-led troops were raiding compounds suspected of housing bomb makers in the Garmser district of Helmand province on Sunday when militants attacked them with heavy fire, the statement said. Coalition forces responded with small-arms fire, killing several militants, it said.

"During one of the engagements, several militants barricaded themselves in a building on the compound and engaged coalition forces with a high volume of gunfire. Coalition forces used a single grenade which killed the attacking militants," the statement said. "However, the building the militants were fighting from collapsed."

After the clash, troops recovered the bodies of a woman and two children from the collapsed building, along with several militants and their weapons, it said. Another woman was wounded during the battle and taken to a medical facility for treatment. Two suspected militants were detained for questioning, the coalition said.

"We would like to express our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of the deceased," said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.

"When militants knowingly engage coalition forces with innocent people in the background, it only shows the extremists' complete disregard for innocent lives," Belcher said in a statement.

More than 5,800 people, mostly militants, have died in insurgency-related violence this year, a record, according to an Associated Press count based on figures from Western and Afghan officials.

Civilian casualties in particular have incited resentment and demonstrations against U.S. and NATO forces, though officials blame militants for using civilian homes as cover during clashes. President Hamid Karzai has pleaded with Western forces to do all they can to prevent such deaths.

Coalition soldier dies
In other violence, a soldier with the U.S.-led coalition died after a battle Saturday about 40 miles northeast of Kabul, the coalition said on Sunday. It did not disclose the soldier's nationality.

In Helmand province, Afghanistan's center for opium-poppy production, a suicide bomber on foot detonated his explosives near a NATO convoy, wounding three bystanders, said Helmand police chief Mohammad Hussein Andiwal.

And elsewhere in the country, Afghan police came under attack by land-mine blast, ambush and an assault on a checkpoint. Three policemen died, one was missing and three were wounded in the scattered attacks.

This has been the deadliest year for the U.S. military in Afghanistan since the 2001 invasion, with more than 100 U.S. troops killed, according to an AP count.

New Zealand Defense Minister Phil Goff said Monday his nephew was one of six U.S. soldiers killed in eastern Nuristan province in a recent attack.

Lt. Matthew Ferraraheld was born in the United States and had dual U.S.-New Zealand citizenship, Goff said. He had graduated near the top of his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and had been serving in Afghanistan for about five months.

New Zealand has about 120 of its own troops in Afghanistan, most of them in a provincial reconstruction team in Bamiyan province. No soldiers in New Zealand's contingent have been killed, though five have been wounded.