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British Forces Checking Report On Afghan Civilian Deaths

KABUL (Reuters) -- NATO's British forces say they are checking a report that some civilians were killed during an operation against the Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan's southern province of Helmand, a spokesman said.

Hundreds of Afghans were killed in air strikes and raids by foreign troops last year, undermining public support for the presence of international forces and leading to a rift between President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers.

The latest incident happened in Baghni district on January 5 when, according to a provincial government source, five members of a family were killed in an operation by British forces.

No further details were given by the official.

"We are looking into this," Major Steve Melbourne, a spokesman for the British forces in Helmand, said by phone.

Nearly 700 civilians were killed up to October last year in raids by foreign and Afghan forces, an Afghan rights body said last month, quoting a UN estimate.

Violence has surged to its worst level in Afghanistan since the Taliban, ousted in a U.S.-led invasion in 2001, regrouped four years ago.

On January 6, a soldier from the NATO-led force was killed in an attack in a southern area, the alliance said. Further details were not immediately available.