April 7, 2016 / 3:42 PM / in a year

Afghan casualties disputed after U.S. air strikes

KABUL (Reuters) - U.S. warplanes conducted two air strikes in Afghanistan near the border with Pakistan on Wednesday but there were conflicting reports on whether the casualties were civilians or combatants.

The two strikes in Paktika province were aimed at insurgent targets, U.S. military spokesman Commander Fernando Estrella said on Thursday, but he gave no more details.

Paktika provincial police chief Zorawar Zahid said 14 insurgents were killed. But another local official said those killed were civilians.

"I am from the area where the incident happened and I can say there were all civilians," said Nimatullah Baburi, a deputy provincial council chief.

The first strike killed about 15 people and the second six, including men who were trying to collect the bodies from the first bombing, Baburi said.

The men were armed but only for their own protection, he said.

Estrella said there was no evidence that civilians were killed and Afghan security officials also denied the report.

U.S. airstrikes in Afghanistan have increased in recent months, especially along the eastern border with Pakistan.

Reporting by Elyas Wahdat in Paktia and by Josh Smith in Kabul, Editing by Angus MacSwan

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