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US bombs militants by Afghan village

At least 12 dead; relief camp hit

KABUL, Afghanistan -- US warplanes bombed an Afghan village in the heat of a battle between US-led forces and insurgents, killing more than a dozen people and striking the camp of a Danish relief group.

The clash late Monday in Kunar Province highlights the risks relief workers face in lawless and impoverished regions of southern and eastern Afghanistan, where coalition forces often clash with Taliban rebels.

The US military said the airstrikes countered an attack by militants on American and Afghan soldiers and that they had killed more than a dozen rebels.

But Afghan officials said the dead included five unarmed civilians.

Kunar's governor, Sayed Fazel Akbar, said the incident began when assailants fired at Afghan and US military camps near Mano Gai, 105 miles east of the capital, Kabul.

"Then the American planes came and bombarded Weradesh village," where the fire had originated, Akbar said. "Several houses were destroyed."

Akbar said five civilians were killed in the American bombardment -- two men, two children, and a woman -- but blamed the militants for the bloodshed.

"If the enemy comes into the villages and opens fire on the government and coalition, we are obliged to respond," he said.

The Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees, or DACAAR, which had a team working in Weradesh, said several bombs were dropped and that its staff believed eight villagers were killed.

The group's 14 staff members fled their darkened camp just before it was hit by one bomb, said Gorm Pedersen, DACAAR's director in Kabul. One worker was slightly injured and much of the group's equipment was damaged.

"Our people decided to take shelter," Pedersen said. "It was while they were running from the camp to the village that they were hit."

US soldiers visited the village early yesterday and told DACAAR staff to draw up an assessment of the damage, Pedersen said.

Sergeant Major Keith Butler, a US spokesman, said warplanes had fired various ordnance on targets, including one laser-guided bomb that hit a vehicle used by militants.

He said the military had no information about the presence of the aid group in the area.

The military insisted no civilians had been hit by American forces, whereas insurgents "fired indiscriminately at villagers" during the four-hour battle.

"All the coalition fire was precision fire," Butler said.

Akbar, the provincial governor, said about 12 militants were killed.

The US military said seven children, one coalition soldier, and two Afghan soldiers were flown to the main American base at Bagram, north of Kabul. Four required surgery and one child later died, Butler said.

The spokesman said troops chased one militant into a house where he blew himself up with a grenade to avoid capture, slightly injuring four of the children.

Civilians have repeatedly fallen victim to violence in Afghanistan that has surged ahead of a landmark presidential election Oct. 9.

A bomb in an Islamic school in southeastern Afghanistan killed nine children and their teacher on Saturday. The US military has suggested it was targeted for teaching "progressive" subjects.

On Sunday, a car-bomb exploded outside an American firm training Afghan police in Kabul, killing as many as 10 people, including three Americans. Loyalists of the former Taliban regime claimed responsibility for the attack, which struck a grim parallel with attacks on police facilities in Iraq.

Afghan authorities seized more than half a ton of explosives and arrested three people on Monday in Chahar Asyab, just south of Kabul, a senior intelligence official said. It was not clear if the men were suspected in Sunday's blast or what they planned to do with the explosives.

Neither the military nor Akbar said which militant group might have been involved in the fighting in Kunar. But the area is considered a stronghold of fighters loyal to renegade warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar.

Several relief organizations have tried to maintain their operations in the east, despite a spate of roadside bombings and clashes between militias, rebels, and US-allied forces. Militant attacks across much of the deprived south and east of the country have already left a vast swath of the country off-limits to aid groups.

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