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Afghan Officials Probe Reported Civilian Deaths in US Strikes


Afghan officials say they are checking reports of heavy civilian casualties during U.S. coalition air strikes in southern Helmand province Thursday.

The officials say the air strike occurred in the province's northernmost Baghran district. A provincial police chief said Friday there were heavy casualties, but did not know exactly how many militants and civilians were killed. Baghran district residents say as many as 200 civilians died.

The U.S. military disputed the reports. A military statement said coalition forces conducted what it called a precision air strike against two Taleban commanders conducting a leadership meeting in the district.

The U.S. military said there were no civilians in the area and that the fate of the commanders is unknown.

Some Afghan officials said the strike hit people who had gathered to watch the Taleban hang two men accused of spying for the government. Other reports dispute that account, quoting residents as saying victims were either preparing for picnics or going to a shrine.

Hundreds of civilians have been killed during NATO and U.S. military operations against insurgents. Angry Afghans have protested and President Hamid Karzai has called the situation unacceptable.

The issue is likely to be high on the agenda of an upcoming meeting between President Bush and Mr. Karzai at the Camp David presidential retreat near Washington.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.

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