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Afghan president wants probe after 11 children died in battle

KABUL -- President Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation after a provincial official said 11 children died in a daylong battle between coalition forces and Taliban fighters.

The president's office condemned the deaths of the children, who local officials said were between two months and seven years old, in the Shigel district of Kunar province. Karzai sent a delegation to probe claims that they died in a strike by U.S. aircraft. Seven Taliban militants, including commanders, were reported killed in the fighting, while four Afghan security personnel and five local women were wounded.

U.S. troops called in air support after they and Afghan forces came under fire late on April 5, provincial spokesman Wasifullah Wasifi said yesterday. A "U.S. airstrike" was followed by "a severe gun battle" that lasted for 24 hours, he said.

The airstrike targeted houses where three brothers and their families lived, Wasifi said. All three were "famed Taliban militants," he said. Remote and mountainous Kunar lies next to the country's border with Pakistan, a frontier across which Taliban militants have found sanctuary.

Civilian casualties have become a significant stress point in the relationship between Karzai and his international backers. Karzai on Feb. 25 banned Afghan security forces from requesting airstrikes by NATO planes during operations.

Maj. Adam Wojack, a spokesman for NATO's International Security Assistance Force, said the Kunar support was requested by coalition soldiers. He said one U.S. civilian also died in the violence which capped a bloody weekend.

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