Seven killed, including two children, as U.S.-led forces move against Taliban suspect

Seven people died, including two children, when U.S.-led forces tried to detain a suspected Taliban militant in a village near the Pakistani border, the military said Thursday.

The battle broke out Tuesday when soldiers from the U.S.-led coalition went to the village in southeastern Paktika province in search of Raz Mohammed, who the military said was implicated in attacks against its troops.

"Coalition troops were fired on by Raz Mohammed and other Taliban forces when they attempted to capture Mohammed," the military said in a statement. "During the ensuing fire-fight, Mohammed and two other enemy insurgents were killed. An Afghan woman and two children also died."

An Afghan helping the coalition troops also was killed, it said. It was unclear if he was a member of the Afghan security forces or an informer.

Another child and a second Afghan working with the coalition were wounded, the statement said. The child was reported in stable condition.

Mullah Hakim Latifi, a purported Taliban spokesman, said the clash occurred when U.S. troops surrounded the tents where Mohammed was living in Waza Khwa, an impoverished district on the Pakistani border.

"Mohammed resisted the U.S. forces," Latifi told The Associated Press by satellite telephone from an undisclosed location.

He confirmed the death of Mohammed, who he said was a senior military commander in eastern Laghman province before the Taliban's ouster in 2001 and said his wife and six of his children were also killed.

Latifi claimed that eight American soldiers had perished in the battle, but the American military said none of its soldiers were hurt.

Paktika lies in a swath of Afghan territory along the mountainous Pakistani frontier where a stubborn insurgency has exposed the feeble reach of the government of U.S.-backed President Hamid Karzai and hampered reconstruction.

Taliban leaders have threatened a fresh offensive as the harsh Afghan winter wanes, but commanders of the 18,000 overwhelmingly American combat troops in Afghanistan and the separate 8,500-strong NATO security force insist the rebels are weakening.

News of the Paktika clash came a day after the U.S. military said its aircraft killed five suspected Taliban militants near the border in Khost province and also that U.S.-led troops had shot an Afghan boy during a search operation.

The boy died Wednesday when troops fired toward a suspected bomb-builder and two armed men in a village near Asadabad in eastern Kunar province, the military said.

Afghan leaders have complained repeatedly that U.S. forces use excessive force during search operations and fail to consult with local authorities. U.N. and human rights officials have warned that civilian deaths are playing into the rebels' hands.

Further south, a roadside bomb hit a U.S. Humvee near Kandahar Air Field, but none of the five American soldiers on board were injured, spokeswoman Lt. Cynthia Moore said. The incident occurred late Wednesday.

In neighboring Helmand province, Afghan officials said they had arrested suspected Taliban over the killing on Wednesday of two Afghan soldiers. The area is a former Taliban stronghold now riven by violent factional disputes.

STEPHEN GRAHAM Associated Press

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