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U.S. checks on Afghan deaths

KABUL, Afghanistan — The U.S. military said Wednesday it was investigating claims an operation killed two dozen Afghan civilians, an announcement that seemed aimed at appeasing President Hamid Karzai.

Afghan officials said a government inquiry found that only militants were killed in the raid Tuesday in the Tagab Valley, a region 30 miles north of the Afghan capital, Kabul, where insurgents have a strong presence.

The U.S. announcement came a day after Karzai made his latest plea to U.S. and NATO troops to avoid killing civilians, a demand he has made repeatedly in recent months. The issue is a growing concern for commanders of foreign forces in Afghanistan.

Civilian deaths could undermine Karzai's re-election bid this year, and such killings also erode the support that the foreign forces need to help Karzai's government extend its reach nationwide.

Afghan news agency Pajhwok quoted villagers as saying 25 civilians died in Tuesday's raid.

Col. Greg Julian, the top U.S. military spokesman in Afghanistan, said that the inqury was not related to Karzai's request, and that the military was doing all it could to avoid civilian deaths because they harm counterinsurgency operations. "We are here to provide security for the Afghans, not to cause harm," Julian said.

U.S. checks on Afghan deaths 01/21/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 21, 2009 10:45pm]

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