Afghans protest against a raid by U.S.-led coalition forces in Laghman province which they said killed civilians January 24, 2009.REUTERS/Rafiq Shirzad
A NATO soldier was killed in southern Afghanistan while US-led forces and local officials and villagers disputed the death toll in an operation in eastern Afghanistan on Friday.
US-led forces claimed Saturday they killed 15 rebels, including a female fighter, in eastern Afghanistan. However, a provincial lawmaker and local villagers said that 21 Afghan civilians were killed in the operation.
The operation, in the eastern province of Laghman, targeted a Taliban commander believed to be involved in moving foreign fighters and weapons into the region, the US military said in a statement.
In the province's Mehtar Lam district, the combined forces received small arms fire from a group of militants exiting from several compounds, the statement said.
Eleven militants were killed in the firefight, while four others were killed in an airstrike, it said, adding that a female fighter was killed 'while maneuvering on coalition forces and was carrying a rocket-propelled grenade.'
However, Abdul Rahimzai, head of Laghman's provincial council, said that Friday night's attack killed 21 civilians and wounded several others.
'Several tribal elders in the area contacted me today and said that they took out 21 dead bodies, including women, from the destroyed houses,' Rahimzai told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa.
Lutfullah Mashal, the provincial governor could not confirm the exact death toll, but said that the operation was not coordinated with the Afghan military or provincial leaders. He said a team had been dispatched to the area to investigate the local people's assertion.
Angry protester took to streets in the provincial centre, chanting slogans against the US military forces in the country. The protesters asked the central government to punish those behind the 'ruthless' attack.
'There were no Taliban fighters in the area when the US forces came and bombed the village,' Wali Mohammad, a demonstrator told dpa by phone from the area.
'I can show you all the bodies, they are all innocent women, children and men,' he said.
Due to the remoteness of the area, it was difficult to verify the contradictory claims independently.
Meanwhile, NATO-led International forces military alliance in Afghanistan said in a statement that one of NATO soldier was killed by a roadside bomb blast in the nation's south.
The statement did not disclose the nationality of the soldier, nor did it give an exact location for the incident. The majority of NATO forces deployed in the south are from the United States, Britain, the Netherlands and Canada.
Separately, NATO forces killed a local man suspected of placing a roadside bomb close to an alliance military base in the Gerishk district of southern Helmand province on Thursday, NATO said in a statement.
The man, who was digging close to base left the area after a NATO soldier fired two warning shots, the statement said, adding that the man was shot to death when he returned to the same area and resumed digging.
Separately, one civilian was killed and four others, including a woman and two children, were wounded in a crossfire between NATO forces and suspected Taliban militants in Helmand's Sangin district, the NATO statement said.
NATO troops airlifted five wounded civilians to a military hospital, where one of them succumbed to his injuries. The rest were reported to be stable.
Civilian casualties at the hand of foreign troops have become a delicate issue in Afghanistan which has created tension between President Hamid Karzai and his international military backers. Karzai, who is facing reelection later this year, has been more critical recently.
In an address to lawmakers last week, Karzai said international forces had not paid attention to his repeated pleas and warned that the fight against terrorism would fail without the support of local people.
Of about 5,000 people killed in the Afghanistan conflict last year, around 2,000 were civilians.