QALAT, Afghanistan (AP) – Afghan villagers said Thursday that U.S. warplanes had bombed houses, killing several civilians and wounding others, including an infant. U.S. forces suffered their sixth fatality in a week amid rising violence.

Zabul Gov. Ali Khail said U.S.-led coalition forces made “a mistake” during operations against militants in the southern province and that civilians had died. He gave no details.

The U.S. military denied civilians were at the scene of the fighting in Day Chopan district Monday and the district’s police chief said Taliban insurgents had been hiding in the area. American officials said earlier that 18 suspected Taliban guerrillas and one U.S. service member had been killed in the clash.

Another U.S. service member died Thursday when militants ambushed a group of American military engineers near a road construction project in Paktika province. Another service member was wounded.

The death was the sixth U.S. fatality since Aug. 4 when three U.S. forces were killed in military operations in eastern Afghanistan. One American service member also died Tuesday in a roadside bomb.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Web site says at least 176 American troops have died in and around the country since Operation Enduring Freedom began in late 2001 to topple the Taliban regime. The Web posting was last updated Wednesday.

U.S. forces on Thursday said that a senior Taliban commander was killed in heavy fighting with soldiers from the Afghan army and paratroopers assigned to the U.S. 508th Airborne Infantry Regiment. Qari Amadullah, who commanded as many as 50 fighters, was killed Tuesday near the eastern Afghan city of Wakikwa.

“Killing this individual will significantly disrupt Taliban operations in the region,” said Brig. Gen James G. Champion.

Five other militants were killed and three U.S. troops were wounded.

Meanwhile, two villagers at a hospital in Qalat, the capital of Zabul, told The Associated Press that their home village of Rauf had been pounded by American bombs on Monday night and early Tuesday.

“The children were crying and they were very afraid,” said a weeping Sadia Bibi, 50. “These planes killed my relatives. We are poor and innocent people. Why are they killing us?”

Bibi’s 20-year-old daughter Najiba Bibi and 6-week-old grandson were being treated for injuries to their hands and legs, which she said were struck by shards of brick during the bombing. Both the woman and the boy were bandaged.

Bibi claimed her 55-year-old brother, Abdul Shakor, and his wife were killed along with a 16-year-old boy named Matiullah.

A relative who brought the injured to the hospital, Abdul Halim, 35, said his neighbor’s house had been bombed, killing a man who lived there.

Also, one woman from the village died at a hospital in neighboring Kandahar province after arriving there with two other injured women on Wednesday, a doctor at the hospital, Mohammed Hashil, told AP by phone.

They suffered injuries to their heads and shoulders, also from bricks blasted apart by the explosions. The surviving women – Shums Bibi, 35, and Fatima Bibi, 24 – were in stable condition, he said.

U.S. military spokeswoman, Lt. Cindy Moore, however, said intelligence indicated that no civilian casualties had occurred.

“It was a remote area. The targets were in an open area. We were firing back … this is possibly propaganda press. We don’t have any assessment of any civilians in this area,” she told AP.

Day Chopan’s police chief, Dashir Ahmad, said U.S.-led forces had mistakenly bombed civilian homes, but that Taliban insurgents had been hiding there. He did not elaborate.

Afghan officials and human rights groups have repeatedly complained about civilian casualties in U.S.-led military operations, saying heavy-handed tactics could stoke sympathy for militants, who have maintained a stubborn insurgency since the Taliban’s ouster.

American commanders insist they modify their operations to try to avoid hurting civilians and accuse militants of using civilians for protection.

Sporadic militant attacks across the country have deepened concerns over security ahead of key legislative elections set for Sept. 18. The vote represents the country’s next step toward democracy after two decades of war and civil strife.

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