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5 children killed in Afghan battle: Australia

world Updated: Feb 14, 2009 21:44 IST

A gunfight between Australian forces and Taliban fighters in southern Afghanistan killed five children who were caught in the crossfire, the Australian Defense Ministry said.

Afghan officials gave lower death tolls. Asadullah Hamdan, the provincial governor, said Friday that three children between 7 and 10 years old were killed.

The fighting in southern Uruzgan province started with a raid by international and Afghan troops on compounds in a village where insurgent leaders were believed to be holed up, NATO said in a statement.

The Australian Defense Ministry said it had reports of five children killed and four other people wounded _ two of them children.

Provincial police chief Gen. Juma Gul Himat said he had reports of four children killed. The conflicting death tolls could not be resolved.

One insurgent was also killed, the Australian ministry statement said. No Australian troops were wounded.

A total of 1,162 civilians were killed in insurgency-related incidents in 2008, according to an AP casualty count _ 368 by foreign and Afghan troops and 768 by the Taliban. Another 26 were caught in crossfire.

The deaths Thursday came as the newly appointed U.S. envoy to the region toured Afghanistan. Envoy Richard Holbrooke was on his first visit to the country since being appointed by President Barack Obama to define a new strategy to combat the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

On Friday, he discussed counterterrorism strategy with the country's two vice presidents and pledged continued U.S. support, state television reported. Holbrooke was also expected to meet President Hamid Karzai.

Karzai has repeatedly warned Western forces they need to do more to prevent civilian deaths or they will lose the support of the Afghan people.