The U.S.-led coalition said Thursday that it had killed more than 30 insurgents in a battle in eastern Afghanistan, fighters an Afghan governor said were responsible for an attack that killed 10 French troops this week.
Lutfullah Mashal, the governor of Laghman province, said coalition bombs targeted fighters on the border of Laghman and Kabul provinces. He said the insurgents were fleeing the valley where Monday's attack on the French took place.
Mashal said Wednesday night's airstrike was not directly in retaliation for the French ambush because the targeted militants also had been involved in “repeated attacks” in the area.
Lt. Col. Rumi Nielson-Green, the top spokeswoman for the U.S.-led coalition, said the coalition was not “completely certain” that the militants were directly involved in the attack on the French.
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“They were certainly at a minimum complicit,” she said. “It doesn't matter if they were or weren't involved in an attack today, yesterday or on Sept. 11, 2001. We seek out terrorists and we will give them the option to be captured or killed or possibly flee.”
Coalition troops and Afghan commandos were conducting a search operation in Laghman when militants engaged the troops in a battle Wednesday, the coalition said in a statement. A coalition airstrike destroyed an “enemy fighting position” in the area, it said.
More than 30 militants were killed and one militant was wounded and taken for treatment after the clash, the coalition said. It said 200 civilians fled the area before the airstrike.
Afghan officials said about 20 civilians were wounded in the fighting. Mashal said it was not clear if the coalition bombs wounded the Afghans or if Taliban fighters had.
Abdullah Fahim, spokesman for the provincial Health Ministry, said 21 civilians were wounded, including five children. Laghman deputy police chief Najibullah Hotak said one civilian died in the fighting and 20 were wounded.
Both NATO and French Defense Minister Herve Morin said Thursday there were no signs that French forces were hit by friendly fire in the ensuing fighting, dismissing a report in the French newspaper Le Monde.