QALAT, Afghanistan – Villagers in southern Afghanistan said Thursday that U.S. airstrikes during operations against militants this week killed civilians and wounded others, including an infant. A U.S. service member was killed in the east — the sixth American fatality in a week.
Zabul province (search) Gov. Ali Khail said U.S.-led coalition forces had "made a mistake" during recent operations in the province, but gave no details.
The U.S. military denied any civilians had been in the area of the Day Chopan (search) district where the fighting had taken place on Monday. The military said earlier that 18 suspected insurgents and one U.S. service member were killed in the fighting.
Another U.S. service member was killed Thursday when suspected insurgents ambushed a group of U.S. military engineers near a road construction project in Paktika province (search). Another service member was wounded, the military said in a statement.
The service member was the sixth to be killed since last Thursday, when three U.S. troops were killed in military operations in eastern Afghanistan. One U.S. troop also died Tuesday in a roadside bomb.
More than 170 American forces have died in and around the country since Operation Enduring Freedom (search) began in late 2001 to oust the hard-line Taliban regime.
Two villagers spoke to The Associated Press about the Zabul bombing at a hospital in the provincial capital, Qalat, a few hours drive from their home village of Rauf, which they said had been pounded by American forces on Monday night and early Tuesday.
"The children were crying and they were very afraid," said a weeping Sadia Bibi, 50. "These planes killed my relatives. We are poor and innocent people. Why are they killing us?"
Bibi's 20-year-old daughter Najiba Bibi and 6-week-old grandson were being treated at the hospital for injuries to their hands and legs, which she said had been struck by pieces of brick during the bombing. Both the woman and boy were bandaged.
Bibi claimed her 55-year-old brother, Abdul Shakor, and his wife were killed along with a 16-year-old boy named Matiullah.
A relative who brought the injured to the hospital, Abdul Halim, 35, said his neighbor's house had been bombed, killing a man who lived there.
Also, one woman from the village died at a hospital in neighboring Kandahar province after arriving there with two other injured women on Wednesday, a doctor at the hospital, Mohammed Hashil, told AP by phone.
U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore, however, said intelligence indicated no civilian casualties had occurred.
"My understanding is that our intelligence shows no civilians in this area. It was a remote area. The targets were in an open area. We were firing back ... this is possibly propaganda press. We don't have any assessment of any civilians in this area," she told AP.
The U.S. military reported earlier that the fighting in Day Chopan was sparked when a U.S. and Afghan patrol came under fire from militants using small arms and rocket-propelled grenades and that coalition aircraft had joined the battle.
Afghan officials and human rights groups repeatedly have complained about civilian casualties in U.S.-led military operations, saying heavy-handed tactics could stoke sympathy for militants who have maintained a stubborn insurgency since the fall of the hard-line Taliban regime.
American commanders insist they modify their operations to try to avoid hurting civilians and accuse militants of using civilians for protection.
Sporadic militant attacks across the country have deepened concerns over security ahead of key legislative elections set for Sept. 18. The vote represents the country's next step toward democracy after two decades of war and civil strife.
Meanwhile, one suspected Taliban guerrilla was killed and seven others arrested by Afghan forces on Wednesday in eastern Paktika province, said Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammed Saher Azimi.
Two other alleged insurgents were arrested during a separate Afghan operation in neighboring Ghazni province (search) Wednesday, he told reporters Thursday.
Azimi also said an accidental explosion at an airport in the southern city of Kandahar (search) on Thursday set three Afghan military trucks and some tents on fire, but declined to give details.