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11 villagers said killed in US raid

Accounts of Afghan officials differ from US military reports

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan -- A US air raid in southern Afghanistan killed 11 villagers, including four children, Afghan officials said yesterday. The US military said it killed five militants in the weekend raid in insurgency-plagued Uruzgan province.

Sunday's attack came as US commanders and Afghan officials search for Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects and try to improve security in the lawless south and east ahead of planned summer elections.

Their task was underscored by a bold daylight raid on a remote military base that injured three American soldiers.

Abdul Rahman, chief of Char Chino district in Uruzgan, said the attack occurred around 9 p.m. Sunday in Saghatho, a village where he said US forces had carried out searches and made several arrests.

He said the victims were outside a house and a helicopter was hovering nearby when "a big plane came and dropped bombs."

"They were simple villagers, they were not Taliban. I don't know why the US bombed this home," he told an Associated Press reporter by telephone in the southern city of Kandahar.

The provincial governor, Jan Mohammed Khan, confirmed Rahman's account that four men, four children, and three women were killed in the American attack.

He said US authorities told him they found ammunition in a search of the village. During the search, "the people were afraid, they started running," Khan said.

Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty, a US military spokesman, said a warplane killed five armed militants north of Deh Rawood, a town in Uruzgan where the American military has a base.

Hilferty had no information on the exact location or time, and no word of civilian casualties. Saghatho is 25 miles north of Deh Rawood.

Hilferty said an AC-130 gunship attacked the men when they left a house frequented by insurgents.

Two botched raids last month sparked outrage and drew UN warnings that civilian casualties could drive Afghans to align with militants who oppose US-backed President Hamid Karzai. On Dec. 5, six children died when a wall fell on them during a nighttime assault on a complex in eastern Paktia province where the US military seized hidden weapons caches.

The next day, nine children were found dead in a field after a ground attack on a village in neighboring Ghazni province.

Both attacks were aimed at wanted militants, but neither target was killed or detained.

American commanders had vowed to review their procedures after the raids.

The attack also brought to more than 50 the death toll since the ratification of a post-Taliban constitution Jan. 4, most of them civilians.

Three US soldiers were wounded Sunday when about 15 insurgents opened fire on the Deh Rawood base with rocket-propelled grenades and machine guns. One attacker was killed when American soldiers returned fire.

The soldiers, all injured by shrapnel, were in stable condition at the main US military base at Bagram, north of Kabul.

Afghanistan's new constitution is supposed to help rebuild a nation destroyed by nearly a quarter-century of war and bolster Karzai, the only declared candidate for the summer election.

But the United Nations has warned that it can only organize the vote if the security situation improves quickly.

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