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U.S. probes report of 25 Afghan civilian deaths

The U.S. military said Wednesday that it was investigating an Afghan news report that a coalition operation may have left more than two dozen civilians dead.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The U.S. military said Wednesday that it was investigating an Afghan news report that a coalition operation may have left more than two dozen civilians dead. Two Afghan officials said a government investigation found only militants were killed.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has long urged U.S. and NATO troops to avoid civilian casualties. The deaths could undermine his re-election bid this year, and also erode support that the foreign forces need to help Karzai's government extend its reach across the country.

On Tuesday, the coalition said a nighttime raid had killed 19 militants, including a locally feared leader, during an operation in the Tagab Valley, a militant hotbed in Kapisa province just 30 miles north of Kabul.

U.S. spokesman Col. Greg Julian said in a statement Wednesday that a coalition investigation would work to "determine the truth" after the Afghan news agency Pajhwok quoted villagers saying 25 civilians had been killed.

Naimatullah Hakimi, the deputy police chief for Kapisa, said a government delegation had met with local officials and elders near the site of the operation and determined that 16 people were killed, including a commander named Mullah Patang who was accused of carrying out orders from militant leaders in Pakistan.

Only "enemies" were killed in the operation, Hakimi said. "No civilians were killed."

The governor's spokesman, Sabor Khan, also said no civilians were killed.

Karzai told lawmakers Tuesday that the government had sent NATO headquarters a draft agreement that would give Afghanistan more control over future NATO deployments.

It would also prohibit NATO troops from searching Afghan homes, according to a copy of the draft obtained by The Associated Press.

Bomber targets wedding party
Late Tuesday, Karzai met Gen. David Petreaus, commander of American forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, to discuss civilian casualties and an increased role for Afghan forces in U.S. military missions, Karzai's office said.

In the latest violence Wednesday, a suicide bomber attacked a wedding party in the northern province of Baghlan, wounding five children and a district police chief, said Abdul Rahman Sayedkheil, a provincial police chief.

Afghan soldiers are seen after a suicide attack in Gozara district of Herat province west of Kabul, Afghanistan, on Wednesday, Jan. 21, 2009.Fraidoon Pooyaa / AP

Separately, a suicide car bomber detonated his explosives near an Afghan army convoy in western Afghanistan, killing two troops, a defense ministry spokesman said.

Three other troops were wounded in the explosion about 20 miles outside the city of Herat, said Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi, the Defense Ministry spokesman.

The United States is expected to increase its focus on the deteriorating security situation in Afghanistan after President Barack Obama's inauguration. Some 33,000 U.S. troops are deployed in the country, but military commanders have said up to 30,000 more American forces will be sent to Afghanistan this year.

Taliban militants have taken control of territory throughout southern Afghanistan in the last three years. American military commanders say they have enough troops to win every battle but that there aren't enough U.S., NATO and Afghan troops to hold territory where militants operate.

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