DURHAM, N.C. - A Marine Corps general has found that a special-operations unit, including an officer from Philadelphia, acted properly during a shoot-out in eastern Afghanistan in March 2007.

In the incident, Marines opened fire along a busy highway, killing several civilians, after their convoy was hit by a car bomb.

The number of civilians killed during the incident has been in dispute, with Afghans citing up to 19 deaths.

Marine Lt. Gen. Samuel Helland determined that members of the 30-man convoy "acted appropriately and in accordance with the rules of engagement and tactics, techniques and procedures in place at the time in response to a complex attack," according to a statement released yesterday.

Lawyers for two officers who appeared at the inquiry - the company commander, Maj. Fred C. Galvin, and the convoy commander, Capt. Vincent J. Noble, a Philadelphia native - contended that the unit responded properly.

Yesterday, Noble's mother, Patricia Noble, said she never doubted her son would be exonerated.

"I am very happy," she said. "My son is an excellent soldier, and he's a great leader." She said his devotion to the Marines was so strong that he endured seven surgeries after being shot in the leg during a tour in Iraq.

"He was determined to come back," she said. "That's how devoted he is; I couldn't be more proud."

The unit - the first Marine special-operations company deployed in combat - had been in Afghanistan just three weeks at the time of the March 4, 2007, incident.

After the shooting near Jalalabad, an Afghan human-rights panel - quoting local civilians and officials - said the Marines killed at least 12 civilians and wounded 35.

When a U.S. Army colonel told local Afghans the killing and wounding of "innocent Afghans at the hands of Americans is a stain on our honor," it triggered an international uproar.

Col. John W. Nicholson, the U.S. Army commander in the area, made cash payments to survivors of 17 victims.

In January, a Marine special court of inquiry looked into the incident, hearing from more than 50 witnesses over 17 days at Camp Lejeune, N.C. Afghans testified by closed-circuit video from Afghanistan.

Afghan civilians and politicians accused the Marines of firing indiscriminately along several miles of highway. Marines testified they responded to what they believed was enemy gunfire linked to the car bomb, which slightly injured one Marine.

A firm death toll was not established.

The Marine Corps said Galvin, Noble, and the company's executive officer, Capt. Robert Olsen, now face administrative actions related to another incident March 9, 2007, in which two Afghan civilians were injured.