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U.N. probes Afghan incident

In a warning to U.S. forces, the Afghan government said it aims to regulate the presence of U.S. troops and their use of airstrikes, while the U.N. on Tuesday announced that “convincing evidence” exists that a U.S.-led operation killed 90 civilians.

The U.N. sent in investigators, who relied solely on villagers' statements in alleging the American-led operation in the western province of Herat on Friday killed 60 children and 30 adults. The U.S. military stood by its account, that 25 militants and five civilians were killed.

“I don't have any information that would suggest that our military commanders in Afghanistan don't believe, still, that this was a legitimate strike on a Taliban target,” Defense Department spokesman Bryan Whitman said in Washington.

The U.N. allegation comes a day after President Hamid Karzai's government said it will try to put more controls on the way U.S. and NATO troops operate, a response to a series of airstrikes and other operations this summer that have caused the deaths of scores of civilians.

Afghanistan's Council of Ministers ordered the ministries of defense and foreign affairs to open negotiations with the U.S. and NATO over airstrikes, house searches and the detentions of Afghan civilians. It also called for a “status of force” agreement to regulate troops' presence.

Afghanistan's effort to rein in foreign forces is similar to steps by the Iraqi government, which has demanded a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S. troops and greater control of U.S. operations.

The U.N. allegation on civilian deaths could set the U.S., U.N. and the Afghan government on a collision course over the use of military force in Afghan villages, where international troops battle Taliban and al-Qaida militants daily.

Russia on Tuesday circulated a draft Security Council press statement expressing concern about the civilian casualties reportedly caused by the airstrike, saying members “strongly deplore the fact that this is not the first incident of this kind.”

Press statements must be approved by all 15 Security Council members and Western diplomats said there was no chance the Russian draft would be adopted.

The draft notes the need to fight terrorism but says “killing and maiming of civilians is a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.”

It calls on the U.S.-led coalition, the International Security Assistance Force and all parties in Afghanistan to take steps to ensure the protection of civilians, particularly women and children.

A spate of civilian deaths has added fuel to long-simmering public anger. In July, 69 Afghan civilians were killed in two operations in eastern Afghanistan, including 47 killed in Nangarhar province while walking to a wedding party, Afghan officials say.

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