U.S. says 2 civilians among 8 dead in Afghan strike

HERAT, Afghanistan (Reuters) – Two civilians were among eight people killed in a U.S.-led coalition operation in western Afghanistan on Friday, the U.S. military said, the latest in a mounting toll of civilian deaths that has outraged Afghans.

The military said fighting erupted after coalition and Afghan army troops were ambushed by militants during a reconnaissance patrol in Farah province.

Troops backed by close air support killed six militants, it said in a statement. “Two civilians were killed and two wounded during the conduct of the insurgent ambush operation.”

An Afghan army commander earlier told Reuters that a woman and a child were killed in the air strike by coalition planes.

The latest deaths come at a time of simmering anger over civilian casualties, which has also opened up a rift between the U.S.-led coalition and the Afghan government.

More than 500 civilians have been killed during operations by foreign and Afghan forces against the militants so far this year, according to the Afghan government and some aid groups.

The Farah air strike was aimed at the house of a local Taliban commander who was among those killed, said Ghulam Farouq Niami, an Afghan army commander for the western zone.

Farah province adjoins Herat, where the Afghan government says more than 90 civilians were killed in a coalition air strike last month, figures supported by the United Nations.

The U.S. military disputes that figure and a three-way investigation involving the United Nations has been proposed.

Western military officials say Taliban fighters deliberately use civilians as cover, drawing coalition firepower against non-combatants in an attempt to reap propaganda gains.

Separately, the U.S. army said troops had killed several militants in an operation in northern Kapisa province on Friday.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan this year as the hardline Islamist Taliban have stepped up their campaign of guerrilla attacks backed by suicide and roadside bombs to oust the pro-Western Afghan government and drive out foreign troops.

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