Afghanistan

U.S. confirms civilian deaths in eastern Afghanistan

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Kabul (dpa) - U.S.-led coalition forces in Afghanistan on Monday confirmed that recent air strikes on "terrorist compounds'' in the eastern province of Kuner resulted in the deaths of an unknown number of Afghan civilians.
"U.S. forces regret the loss of innocent lives and follow stringent rules of engagement specifically to ensure that non-combatants are safeguarded,'' said a statement.

"Every air operation is carefully planned and all possible efforts are taken to prevent non-combatant injuries and deaths,'' the statement said.

Provincial governor of Kunar Asadullah Wafa told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa that 17 civilians were killed by U.S. air strikes in the Chechil village region on Friday.

Those killed included, children, women and older people,'' Wafa said.

The bombardment followed heavy clashes in the region between U.S.-led forces and militants, and the June 28 shooting down of a U.S. helicopter which killed all 16 people aboard.

The U.S. military said the air strikes targeted a compound that was a known operating base for terrorist attacks in Kunar province as well as a base for a medium-level terrorist leader. An unconfirmed number of militants were also killed.

Also Monday, the Afghan electoral body condemned the killing of Mullah Mohammad Nabi Mesbah, an Afghan cleric who was also a member of the Provincial Election Commission in the southern province of Kandahar.

The Joint Electoral Management Body (JEMB) condemned the attack as "a senseless act of violence aimed at halting progress in Afghanistan'', according to a statement issued in Kabul.

"We condemn any violence against people working to rebuild Afghanistan and set it on the path to peace and stability, said JEMB chairman Bissmillah Bissmil.

Mullah Mesbah was shot in Kandahar on Sunday by unidentified militants. He later died of his wounds in a U.S. military hospital. He was the third Afghan working in support of elections scheduled for September 18 to have been killed in the past month.

Militants loyal to the former Taliban regime have claimed responsibility for the killing.

Meanwhile, U.S.-led forces also said Monday that 18 commanders of the Islamist militant group Hezb-e-Islam have in recent months handed themselves in to authorities under the terms of a government amnesty.

The Hezb-e-Islam group of Sunni Moslem Pashtuns is loyal to warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, who rose to power as a mujahideen leader fighting Soviet occupying forces. The group has since the fall of the Taliban regime been linked to militants fighting U.S.-led forces. dpa km ch ms

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