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NATO Occupation Forces Kill Afghan Civilians, Police Say

By Reuters

01/12/07 -- -KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Jan 12 (
Reuters) - NATO aircraft attacked Taliban rebels in southern Afghanistan and killed 16 insurgents and 13 civilians, Afghan police said on Friday, but NATO denied causing civilian casualties.

The attack in Garmser district of Helmand province on Thursday came hours after a separate incident in which NATO said its troops and Afghan forces killed up to 150 insurgents infiltrating from Pakistan.

Last year was the bloodiest in Afghanistan since U.S.-led forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001 but the violence fell off at the end of the year.

The chief of police in Helmand, Mohammand Nabi Mullahkhail, said 16 Taliban and 13 civilians had been killed in a NATO air strike in the remote district where British troops have been fighting the Taliban for months.

But a spokeswoman for the 32,000-strong NATO force said on Friday there was no evidence of any civilian casualties.

"Our intelligence suggests all casualties are Taliban," the spokeswoman said. She declined to give more details saying different reports of the attack were being checked.

The NATO force, facing the fiercest ground combat of the alliance's history, says it takes all steps to avoid civilian casualties but deadly incidents do occur.

A NATO spokesman in Brussels said this week poor communications between NATO and Afghan authorities were to blame for the killing of 31 civilians last October by alliance warplanes during a battle with insurgents in Kandahar province.

In the first big clash of this year, NATO said up to 150 insurgents were killed in a series of air and artillery strikes in the southeastern province of Paktika late on Wednesday after the rebels slipped over the border from Pakistan.

On Friday, a suicide car bomber attacked a vehicle on the outskirts of Kabul, wounding two foreigners and four Afghans, police said. A NATO spokeswoman said the vehicle attacked belonged to a civilian contractor.

Afghan anger over the infiltration of resurgent Taliban from Pakistan has damaged relations between the neighbours, both important U.S. allies in the war on terrorism.

Afghanistan and the United Nations have been urging Pakistan to do more to end Taliban sanctuaries in the lawless border lands where Pakistani forces have also been fighting militants.

U.S. intelligence chief John Negroponte said on Thursday it would be necessary to eliminate Taliban safe havens in Pakistan's tribal areas to end the insurgency in Afghanistan. (Additional reporting by Robert Birsel in Kabul)

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