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NATO Denies Civilians Killed In Afghan Attack

KABUL (Reuters) -- The NATO-led force has denied it had killed any civilians in an operation in eastern Afghanistan, but a provincial official said 12 people, probably civilians, had been killed in the attack.

A statement from the NATO-led force said a joint Afghan-NATO force killed seven militants and detained four in Laghman Province, northeast of Kabul, while pursuing a Taliban militant responsible for suicide attacks in the area.

"We are aware of civilian casualty allegations, however there are no operational reports to substantiate those claims of harming civilians, including women and children during this operation," spokeswoman navy Captain Jane Campbell said.

The statement said the joint force came under "hostile fire from multiple positions and returned fire" in Armul village, in Mehtar Lam district.

"The joint force searched the compound without further incident and recovered multiple AK-47 rifles."

The spokesman for Laghman's governor, Sayed Ahmad Safi, said 12 people in four houses were killed during the operation.

"We have launched an investigation to find out how many of them were civilians and how many were Taliban," he said. "It looks like all of them may have been civilians, including women."

Civilian casualties caused by Western forces have stoked anger towards foreign troops, which NATO commander U.S. General Stanley McChrystal says undermines his mission.

The issue has been a major source of friction between President Hamid Karzai and foreign troops. Since taking over command in June, McChrystal issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on the use of air power.

Some Afghans are concerned that the influx of 30,000 more U.S. troops ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama last week will result in more attacks and higher civilian casualties.

A NATO air strike in September, ordered by German forces near the northern Afghan city of Konduz, killed 30 civilians as well as insurgents, according to the Afghan government.

Germany's defense minister at the time of the attack was forced to resign from the cabinet last month over accusations he covered up the civilian toll of the controversial strike.

The head of Germany's armed forces also quit over the incident.