KABUL, Afghanistan -- Taliban militants ambushed US-led coalition forces in southern Afghanistan, sparking a 10-hour battle and airstrikes that killed an estimated two dozen militants, the coalition said yesterday. Villagers said seven civilians were among the dead.
Meanwhile, the UN human rights chief in Afghanistan said there were between 320 and 380 civilian deaths in military operations and militant violence in the first four months of the year. He said the issue of civilian deaths caused by coalition troops is complex and "difficult to disentangle."
"In some cases, people are said to be Taliban by one side and claimed to be civilians by the other," Richard Bennett said. "Many Afghans have weapons in their homes, and they may protect their homes. They might not be Taliban. On the other hand, they might be Taliban or other insurgents."
Also, the number of bombs dropped in Afghanistan has far surpassed the number in Iraq in recent years. Some suggest the reason is that there are too few US ground troops in Afghanistan and the target areas are far removed from international media scrutiny.
Air Force Lieutenant General Gary North, chief of the Central Command's air component, said yesterday that bombing is more prevalent because the Afghan enemy is more easily identified than the insurgents in Iraq, and often comes in larger groups.
"What we see in Afghanistan more often is not the single or four or five insurgents, but larger numbers -- 10 or 20 or maybe 30," he told The Associated Press at a US air base in southwest Asia.
The violence on Sunday began when a convoy of Afghan police and coalition forces that was escorting 24 supply trucks hit two roadside bombs and was ambushed by Taliban fighters in Helmand province, a coalition statement said yesterday.
The blast killed an Afghan truck driver, it said.
A 10-hour battle ensued, involving gunfights and airstrikes that killed "an estimated two dozen enemy fighters," the coalition statement said. "One enemy fighting position" was destroyed, and "no Afghan civilian injuries were reported," the statement said.
But Abdul Qudus, a villager from Helmand's Gereshk district, told the AP by phone that airstrikes hit a civilian area.
"They came and bombarded the houses of innocent people. Three houses were completely destroyed. Seven people -- including women and children -- were killed, and between 10 and 15 were wounded," Qudus said. There was no way to verify the events on the ground at the remote battle site.
Also, a British soldier died yesterday in Helmand province, the Defense Ministry said.