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British Authorities Deny Claims of Heavy Afghan Civilian Casualties


British authorities are denying claims by Afghanistan's ruling Taleban of heavy civilian casualties in the U.S.-led air strikes against military and terrorist targets in Afghanistan. Britain also says the air war may ease for a Muslim holiday.

British International Development Secretary Clare Short says Afghanistan's Taleban rulers are spreading false claims throughout Muslim countries about civilian casualties.

"There is propaganda being fed out in those countries distorting what is taking place and claims of casualties that are not true," Ms. Short says. "And the danger would be that those stories were widely believed, and there was mounting opposition throughout the Muslim world and in surrounding countries to the campaign and that would endanger our success," she says.

The Taleban have said that at least 200 civilians have been killed since the air strikes began on Sunday. There has been no independent verification of such numbers.

The British Minister of State for Defense Lewis Moonie said targets are selected very carefully to avoid civilian casualties.

And in a bow to Muslim sensitivities, Mr. Moonie also said the bombing campaign will likely be scaled back for Saturday's Muslim festival marking the ascension to heaven of the Prophet Mohammed.

In another development, Ms. Short said Britain has just approved 22 million dollars more in humanitarian aid for Afghanistan.

Ms. Short said hungry Afghans desperately need food shipments before winter sets in. "In five or six weeks, when the first snows signal the beginning of Afghanistan's winter, it will become massively more difficult to move food by land," she said. "More than a quarter of the population of the country is already hungry," she said.

Ms. Short says about 500 tons of food is reaching Afghanistan each week, delivered by what she called "very brave" Afghan truckers. She says that amount should be doubled to get in enough supplies to last throughout the winter.

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