KABUL, Afghanistan - New air strikes in a volatile southern Afghan region killed up to 10 Taliban fighters near where villagers say about 40 civilians died in a battle earlier this week, and the U.S.-led coalition said yesterday that local Afghans feared more Taliban attacks.
Taliban fighters ambushed a patrol of coalition and Afghan forces near Sangin in Helmand province Thursday evening, and gunfire and air strikes killed 10 militants, said Eizatullah Khan, the Sangin district chief.
A coalition spokesman, Sgt. First Class Dean Welch, put the toll at six Taliban killed. Two villagers from Sangin said they knew of no civilian casualties in the fight.
Air strikes called in by U.S. forces fighting 200 Taliban north of Sangin on Tuesday killed 21 civilians, an Afghan government official said. Villagers said nearly 40 civilians were killed.
The coalition confirmed that the battle caused civilian casualties, killing at least one child, and that an Afghan-U.S. team would investigate.
Gen. Dan McNeill, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, told NPR's Morning Edition that "it does appear there were civilian casualties" but that it was not clear what caused them. He said it was likely the Taliban fighters had been firing on coalition forces from civilian homes.
The coalition said villagers around Sangin reported detaining 15 Taliban fighters yesterday. The coalition said that villagers "have become angered with Taliban enemy fighters due to the aftermath of the battle" Tuesday and that villagers feared retaliation from the Taliban.
Also yesterday, the Taliban released French aid worker Eric Damfreville after five weeks in captivity, and the Taliban credited the release to comments by French President-elect Nicolas Sarkozy that his country's troops would eventually leave Afghanistan.