KABUL, Afghanistan – The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan accused Taliban militants Monday of falsely reporting civilian casualties to discredit Afghan and international forces. Ten insurgents and two foreign soldiers, meanwhile, were killed in fresh fighting.
The U.S.-led coalition made the claim Monday after Afghan elders alleged that up to 18 civilians were killed late Sunday by coalition troops in Helmand province, a Taliban stronghold.
Capt. Vanessa R. Bowman, a coalition spokeswoman, said credible intelligence suggested the claims were fabricated as part of a propaganda war. "The insurgents continue to follow their pattern of falsely reporting civilian casualties," she said.
NATO-led forces, whose operations in Helmand are being supported by U.S.-led coalition troops and aircraft, insist that no noncombatants were killed in the fighting. The claims could not be independently verified due to the remoteness of the area where the clash took place.
Reports of civilian casualties at the hands of foreign forces are highly sensitive in Afghanistan. President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly deplored such deaths, saying they undermine efforts to win the trust of the people.
Insurgent attacks on Afghan and Western troops are running at their highest level since U.S. forces invaded the country in 2001 to oust the hard-line Islamic Taliban rulers, who had harbored Usama bin Laden and other Al Qaeda leaders following the Sept. 11 attacks on the U.S.
Late Sunday, Afghan police killed six suspected militants during a one-hour gunbattle in Paktika province, which borders Pakistan, said Ghamia Khan, a spokesman for the governor. He gave no more details.
Meanwhile, unidentified assailants on Sunday shot and killed a soldier from the 37-nation strong security assistance force during a foot patrol in eastern Afghanistan, the coalition said Monday in a statement. It did not identify the nationality of the dead solider.
In the Netherlands, defense chief Gen. Dick Berlijn told reporters on Monday that a Dutch soldier was killed by a roadside bomb in southern Afghanistan. The 30-year-old sergeant, whose name was not immediately released, died late Sunday night when an improvised explosive device detonated near the southern town of Deh Rawod.
In the southern Zabul province, Afghan and coalition troops clashed with insurgents in Daychopan district Sunday, killing four suspected Taliban and wounding four others, said Fazel Bari, the Daychopan district chief.
Also Sunday, Afghan troops destroyed a heroin laboratory after battling Taliban fighters guarding the facility, a U.S.-led coalition statement said. The lab in Helmand contained large amounts of opium-processing chemicals along with weapons, insurgent propaganda and explosive materials, it said.
Afghanistan accounts for more than 90 percent of the world's heroin supply, and a significant portion of the profits from the $3.1 billion trade are thought to flow to Taliban fighters who tax and protect poppy farmers and drug runners.