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Agence France Presse

Afghan Governor Says 22 Civilians Killed in Air Strike


JALALABAD, Afghanistan - An Afghan district governor said 22 people, most of them women and children, were killed Sunday when US-led coalition air strikes hit a wedding party in eastern Afghanistan, but the force insisted only militants were killed.0706 07 1

"I confirm that 22 people, three of them men and 19 of them women and children, were killed," said Hamisha Gul, governor of Deh Bala district in the eastern province of Nangarhar.

Gul said his information came from police and other officials he had dispatched to the area near the Pakistan border to investigate after reports of civilian casualties in the incident.

His claim could not be immediately confirmed with more senior Afghan officials nor independently verified as the area is remote and difficult to access.

The US-led coalition rejected the allegations.

"It was not a wedding party, there were no women or children present. We have no reports of civilian casualties," coalition media officer Captain Christian Patterson told AFP.

The coalition said in a statement earlier that "several" militants were killed in the air strike.

It was the second time in three days the coalition was accused of inflicting heavy civilian casualties in air strikes.

Afghan officials have said strikes on Friday in northeast Nuristan province, also on the border with Pakistan, killed more than a dozen civilians.

The coalition insists only militants were killed. President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation.

The seven-year internationally supported campaign to fight a bloody Taliban-led insurgency has seen several incidents in which civilians were killed, as well as claims of civilian casualties that have proven untrue.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed in international military action against insurgents, most of them in air strikes on remote areas even though the forces employ several measures to confirm the identities of their targets.

The UN said last month that nearly 700 Afghan civilians have lost their lives this year, nearly two-thirds in militant attacks and about 255 in military operations.

© 2008 Agence France Presse

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