By FISNIK ABRASHI
The Associated Press
Thursday, August 24, 2006; 3:22 PM
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A pre-dawn raid by American troops in eastern Afghanistan left seven suspected al-Qaida fighters and one child dead, the U.S. military said in an account that was disputed by police who say those killed were two families sorting out a feud.
The raid aimed at capturing a "known al-Qaida facilitator" in the village of Asmar in Kunar province, said Col. Tom Collins, a spokesman for the U.S.-led coalition. The seven dead al-Qaida suspects included the facilitator, he said. Four others were detained.
Afghan officials, however, said those targeted in the compound were from two families trying to resolve a dispute through village elders. Abdul Sabur Alluhyar, the deputy provincial police chief, denied the families were members of al-Qaida.
"According to our district chief, the people who have been killed in the incident this morning are civilians from Shigal district," he said, adding that someone had given the coalition incorrect information that an al-Qaida meeting had been under way at the compound.
Kunar is a volatile region bordering Pakistan where U.S. forces have deployed in large numbers to track down Taliban, al-Qaida and other Islamic extremists.
Militants have stepped up attacks this year and triggered the deadliest violence here since the late-2001 ouster of the Taliban regime for hosting Osama bin Laden. More than 1,600 people, mostly militants, have died in the past four months, according to an Associated Press tally of violent incidents reported by U.S., NATO and Afghan officials.
The U.S. military said it had initiated Thursday's raid, but that it was the suspects who had opened fire first on the U.S. and Afghan forces as they approached the compound. The forces had consequently killed them with return fire.
"We strongly believe and have evidence to support (the seven killed) were al-Qaida," Collins told reporters, without offering evidence other than that soldiers also seized multiple weapons, ammunition and grenades from the compound.
The U.S. military said a child aged between 10 to 12 years was killed in the fighting, but that the circumstances of the death were unclear. A woman was also wounded.
Militants have repeatedly staged deadly attacks on coalition forces in Kunar, still regarded as a possible hiding place of bin Laden. Last week, three U.S. soldiers were killed and three others wounded in when their convoy hit a roadside bomb in the province.
Meanwhile, a purported Taliban spokesman denied reports that militants are holding talks with government officials or foreign forces in a bid to end the country's violence, which has been mostly focussed on the hardline militia's southern heartland.
In an e-mail sent to an Associated Press reporter in Pakistan, Mohammed Hanif said resurgent Taliban fighters "have neither held talks with invading forces and their puppets nor are ready to sit with them in the presence of the country's invasion."
Hanif's exact ties to the Taliban leadership are unclear.
Earlier this week, Afghan officials in the south said authorities had returned the bodies of 21 militants killed in recent fighting to their families after being contacted by the Taliban, amid signs of an effort to strike up a dialogue.
Agha Lalai, an official with an Afghan reconciliation commission that encourages Taliban militants to disarm, said it was negotiating with a number of insurgents in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan.
Associated Press reporter Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report