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NATO Force Denies Afghan Civilian Casualty Report

KABUL -- The NATO-led force in Afghanistan has denied reports that it killed more than a dozen civilians in an air strike to the northeast of the capital.

Twelve civilians were killed and 18 were wounded when NATO-led forces carried out an air strike on suspected Taliban militants in Kapisa Province on August 9, according to provincial officials.

President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation.

The issue of civilian casualties has led to a rift between Afghanistan and its Western allies, with President Hamid Karzai saying on August 10 that foreign air strikes had only succeeded in killing ordinary Afghans and would not defeat the insurgency.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it has conducted an investigation and maintains those killed were insurgents.

"Following recent media reports of significant civilian casualties ... ISAF has now concluded a thorough investigation of the claim and has evidence that those killed were insurgents," ISAF said in a statement late on August 11.

Insurgents fired on ISAF soldiers in Tagab district in Kapisa Province on August 9 but withdrew after two of their soldiers were wounded, ISAF said.

A surveillance aircraft later observed the men hiding their weapons and changing into civilian clothes, it said.

"Still under observation, they then moved to an open field where they were attacked and killed by shots from an ISAF aircraft," ISAF said. "No innocent civilians were injured or killed."

About 1,000 civilians have been killed during the first six months of this year, aid agencies say. While most are believed to have died during insurgent attacks, many Afghans feel foreign forces don't take enough care in avoiding civilian casualties.

Violence has escalated in Afghanistan since 2006 when the Taliban, ousted from power in 2001, relaunched their insurgency against the government and foreign forces.

The Defense Ministry on August 12 said six insurgents were killed in an operation in the southeastern province of Paktika.

Elsewhere, an improvised explosive device killed a Latvian soldier and wounded two more on August 11, ISAF said in a separate statement late the same day. Thirteen civilians were also wounded in the attack, it said.