U.S. Military officials in Afghanistan say 24 Taleban rebels have been killed in a clash with government and coalition forces in southern Afghanistan. U.S. officials have also apologized for an air strike earlier this week that reportedly killed 16 civilians.
Officials say the rebels were killed in a firefight Tuesday in Uruzgan province in southern Afghanistan. Several government soldiers were also reportedly killed.
It was the latest in a series of clashes in the past two months in which about 300 people have been killed.
In addition, coalition officials acknowledged responsibility for an air strike Sunday that reportedly killed Afghan civilians in a remote part of southern Kandahar province.
A spokesman for the United States military, Colonel Tom Collins, apologized for the loss of innocent lives. But he defended the action, telling reporters in Kabul that the strike was ordered after coalition troops came under fire.
He says U.S. commanders did not know civilians were in the houses when the U.S. planes attacked, and he accused Taleban insurgents of intentionally using civilian houses for protection.
"The ultimate cause of why civilians were injured and killed is because the Taleban knowingly, willfully chose to occupy homes of these people," said Collins.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has ordered an inquiry into the incident.
In a written statement Tuesday, Mr. Karzai expressed concern over U.S. tactics, but also condemned the Taleban's use of so-called human shields.
Collins also told reporters that rebel activity has been rising in several southern Afghan provinces, which were the Taleban's traditional stronghold.
"There are several hundred hard-core Taleban fighters," he said. "And we know for a fact that in recent weeks they have grown in strength and influence in some parts of Kandahar, Helmand, and Uruzgan."
Local officials in the region say rebel activity typically rises during the summer and does not mean the government is losing popular support.
This year's violence has been the rebel's deadliest so-called "summer offensive" since U.S.-led forces ousted the Taleban regime in 2001 for harboring terrorist leader Osama bin Laden.