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Afghan Police Say Victims Of U.S. Raid Were Not Militants

KABUL (Reuters) -- Afghan police have disputed whether five men killed in a raid by U.S. and Afghan troops on March 14 were militants.

The predawn raid took place in the Charkh district of Logar Province, some 80 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kabul. The U.S. military said the operation aimed at disrupting a network that had been carrying out roadside bombings.

"A firefight began when armed militants engaged the force, five enemy combatants were killed in the firefight," a U.S. military statement said.

Afghan police and officials, however, said the men killed were noncombatants.

"I confirm that those killed by U.S. forces were civilians...four brothers and a father," said General Mustafa Mohseni, the police chief in Logar Province.

The head of the provincial council, Abdul Hakim Sulaimankhil, condemned the killing of civilians.

More than 3,000 fresh U.S. troops have been recently deployed in Logar and neighboring Wardak Province.

Civilian casualties are the greatest source tension between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and Western governments fighting the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan, and there has been dwindling public support for the continued presence of nearly 70,000 foreign troops in the country.

More than 2,100 civilians were killed in Afghanistan last year, 40 percent more than 2007, the United Nations said. Around one-quarter were killed by international forces.

U.S. President Barack Obama has issued orders for some 17,000 more troops to be set to Afghanistan.

Military officials expect the violence to increase this year as foreign troops move into areas where they have seldom patrolled before.