BAGRAM, Afghanistan – U.S. forces were treating an 8-year-old boy apparently injured on a ridge in southern Afghanistan where American soldiers have been fighting a group of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda fugitives, a military spokesman said Saturday.
The boy, who suffered from shrapnel wounds, told U.S. forces that his father had been among the group of men firing on U.S. forces from the craggy, mountainous terrain in Helmand province, said Col. Roger King, a spokesman at Bagram Air Base.
The boy was taken to a U.S. base in Kandahar for treatment. The father was being held by U.S. Special Forces soldiers, he said. King again denied reports by local residents that up to 30 civilians had been killed in several villages in the province's Bagran region.
"From all the checking that we've done, and we've had patrols go up in the ridgelines where the bombing occurred, the only noncombatant casualty we've been able to confirm is this 8-year-old boy who was brought in by his father," King said. "And the boy himself confirmed that the father was a combatant and that he had been with him."
The Afghan government is looking into the reports of civilian casualties, despite the U.S. denials.
It was not immediately clear how the boy was wounded. King said it appeared he was hit by shrapnel in the initial phases of the fighting, dubbed "Operation Eagle Fury," which began earlier this week.
"The boy was apparently wounded a couple of days ago because his wounds were already infected, so it may have been in one of the initial attacks that he was wounded," King said.
He said the boy's father had claimed his son was injured as they sat in a village about a mile from the fighting, but that the boy told the Americans a different story.
"As soon as the father was out of earshot, (the boy says) 'No, we weren't at the village, we were up on the ridgeline with the other armed guys and my dad was shooting with everybody else,"' King said.
King said the operation was conducted after months of intelligence reports that Taliban elements were active in the area. The military has estimated there were between 30 and 100 Taliban fighters in the area, though they have not identified any top ranking Taliban leaders suspected of being there.
Fifteen people have been detained so far, King said. He said the fighting had largely quieted down by Saturday.
Also Saturday, King said two Afghan children injured when one of them stepped on a land mine near Bagram Air Base on Friday were taken to the hospital for treatment. They were in stable condition.
In the Afghan capital of Kabul, the new commander of an international force said Saturday that maintaining peace in Kabul is his top priority.
"I have assumed responsibility for providing protection to the people, and I will be closely working with the Afghan police to achieve this goal," German Lt. Gen. Norbert van Heyst told reporters at the headquarters of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF.
Germany and the Netherlands assumed command of the 22-nation peacekeeping force this week, taking over from Turkey.