Source AP ©

Dozens killed in series of clashes and airstrike in Afghanistan

A series of clashes and an airstrike in southern Afghanistan killed 25 militants and eight civilians held hostage by insurgents, the U.S.-led coalition said Monday.

Meanwhile, a bomb attack against a NATO convoy in the country's northwest wounded 14 people, mostly civilians, an official said.

Militants ambushed the coalition and Afghan troops along a road in the southern province of Uruzgan on Sunday, triggering gunbattles during which militants moved into a compound and took 11 civilians hostage, the statement said.

"Coalition troops called in close-air support to engage the militants hiding in the structure. They did not have knowledge of noncombatants in the buildings at that time," the coalition statement said.

As a result, eight civilians were killed and three were wounded, the coalition said. The wounded civilians were taken to a coalition base for treatment.

U.S. 1st Lt. Nathan Perry, a coalition spokesman, said three civilian hostages survived the airstrike in Khas Uruzgan district, including an infant, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 20s.

Juma Gul Himat, the provincial police chief, said six civilians - one child and five men - were killed and three others were wounded in the strike. He could not immediately explain why the coalition said eight civilians were killed.

Himat blamed the Taliban fighters for using civilians homes for cover during the attack, thus putting civilians in danger.

The coalition regularly accuses militants of using civilian homes they commandeer to attack foreign and Afghan troops.

But President Hamid Karzai and other Afghan officials have pleaded with the coalition to avoid killing civilians, which threatens to undermine support for the government.

Karzai on Sunday urged the U.S.-led coalition and NATO troops to go after militant sanctuaries in Pakistan, rather than bomb Afghan villages.

"The struggle against terrorism is not in the villages of Afghanistan," Karzai said. "The only result of the use of airstrikes is the killing of civilians. This is not the way to wage the fight against terrorism."

In the northwestern Faryab province, a roadside blast struck a NATO convoy Monday, wounding 14 people, including two foreign soldiers and 12 civilians, said Khalil Andarabi, the provincial police chief.

The convoy was passing through the center of the provincial capital at the time of the explosion, Andarabi said. The bomb was placed on a motorbike on the side of the road and was remotely detonated, he said.

NATO did not have an immediate comment. Many of the alliance's troops in Faryab are Norwegian.

Separately, militants on Monday ambushed a convoy of vehicles belonging to a demining company in the southern Zabul province, killing two Afghan guards and wounding seven others, said Jalani Khan, a police official. Afghanistan is one of the world's most heavily mined countries after suffering through decades of war. Demining teams have been working around the country to clear minefields since the Taliban's fall in 2001.

More than 3,000 people - mostly militants - have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press tally of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

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