KANDAHAR, (AFP) – Three NATO soldiers, at least a dozen Afghan security guards and several civilians were killed in a wave of violence across Afghanistan, authorities said Friday.
Two of the soldiers were killed in a bomb attack in southern Afghanistan on Friday and a third — an American — died in a similar attack on Thursday, the military announced.
The nationalities of Friday’s casualties were not disclosed but a NATO spokesman denied that they were Americans.
NATO’s mission in Afghanistan does not disclose the nationalities of its casualties, leaving it for their relevant countries to do so.
The deaths brings to 441 the number of foreign soldiers killed in the Afghan war so far this year. The total for 2009 was 520, according to an AFP count based on a tally kept by icasualties.org.
The force said it killed a woman during an operation late Thursday aimed at capturing a Taliban commander in the eastern province of Khost.
Chasing the suspect through walled compounds, the troops opened fire after seeing a gun pointing towards them from a room. The troops later found they had killed a woman, ISAF said in a statement.
“Inside the room, they found one woman dead and another with a minor wound as a result of the gunfire. An AK-47 was next to the killed female,” it said.
According to Afghan tradition women rarely take part in war but most Afghan households keep firearms in their homes for security.
The issue of civilian casualties is a deeply sensitive one in Afghanistan and often leads to angry anti-US and anti-government demonstrations.
In the south, authorities said the bodies of at least 12 people, possibly private security guards, were recovered following a fierce battle with the Taliban in Helmand province.
Heavy gunbattles broke out between insurgents and guards working for a road construction company in volatile Sangin district on Thursday, provincial spokesman Daud Ahmadi told AFP.
A dozen bodies were evacuated Friday to a hospital in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah, he said.
“We know that they were killed during yesterday’s fighting with the Taliban. We don’t know whether they are guards or workers,” he said.
The Taliban claimed involvement.
“We launched an attack on the road construction company along the Sangin and Gereshk road,” Zabihullah Mujahed, a rebel spokesman, said by telephone, referring to the region where authorities said the fighting took place.
“We took more than 30 checkposts along the road and killed more than 50 guards,” he said, speaking from an undisclosed location.
His claims could not be independently verified but the Taliban are known to exaggerate the impact of their operations.
Abdul Mohammad, an employee of the road construction company, said he accompanied the bodies to hospital.
He described the fighting as “fierce” and said at least another 20 bodies had been either left behind or removed from the battle scene.
“Yesterday the Taliban attacked us. We requested help from Afghan and foreign forces but no one helped. Lots of people were killed, I think more than 20 other bodies were left in the area or have been taken elsewhere,” he said.
He said the 12 bodies he evacuated with the help of colleagues were “security guards”.
His account was not confirmed by Ahmadi, who said the incident was being investigated.
The Taliban is waging an Islamist insurgency to topple the Western-backed government in Kabul. As part of their campaign they target government troops and anyone associated with it.
President Hamid Karzai has decreed that the 52 private security contractors operating in Afghanistan should cease operations by the end of the year.
The tight deadline and lack of government forces able to step into the breach has led to fears of a security crisis that could leave international organisations vulnerable, and delay reconstruction projects and aid deliveries.
There are 141,000 Western, mainly US troops based in the country fighting the rebels.