U.S., Afghan Raid On Suspected Bomb Cell Kills 4 Militants, 2 Female Civilians

Sunday, April 29th 2007, 7:55 pm

By: News On 6

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) _ U.S.-led coalition and Afghan forces raided a suspected car bomb cell in eastern Afghanistan early Sunday, and the ensuing gun battle left four militants and two female civilians dead, the coalition said.

The latest civilian deaths occurred in the same area of eastern Nangarhar province where a U.S. Marines convoy, fleeing after being hit by a suicide car bomb on March 4, opened fire on vehicles and pedestrians, killing 12 people.

Abdul Mohammad, a Nangarhar police investigator, said the operation early Sunday left five civilians dead, including two women. He said villagers had taken the bodies to the main highway and blocked the road in an angry protest.

The joint coalition and Afghan forces raided a compound in the Bati Kot area of Nangarhar province, acting on a tip indicating the cell was planning three suicide car bomb attacks against coalition forces in the coming weeks, a coalition statement said.

The coalition said that after being fired upon, the coalition forces returned fire, killing four militants, an adult woman and a teenage girl. Another child and teenage girl were wounded during the gunfight and were being treated at a coalition facility.

Coalition forces found several guns and bomb-making materials, and detained one man from the compound for questioning.

``It is extremely unfortunate that militants put others' lives in danger by hiding among their families,'' said Maj. Chris Belcher, a coalition spokesman.

Mohammad, the Nangarhar director of police criminal investigations, said the operation targeted three houses and left five civilians dead, including two women. He said six people were arrested.

The villagers brought the bodies Sunday morning to the main highway between Jalalabad and Torkham, he said. Hundreds of demonstrators came to protest the deaths.

Afghan officials have repeatedly pleaded with coalition and NATO forces to be careful to prevent civilian deaths. The latest violence is likely to deepen distrust among Afghans, whose support for international forces and the shaky U.S.-backed government is waning.

The Afghan Independent Human Rights Commission said the Marines, after being hit by an explosives-rigged minivan on March 4, violated international humanitarian law by using excessive force when they opened fire at civilians along a 10-mile stretch of road, leaving 12 people dead.

A U.S. military commander also has determined that the Marines used excessive force, and referred the case for possible criminal inquiry.

The troubled eastern provinces along the Pakistani border are known to be home to insurgents from the Taliban and other militant groups.

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