KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – A series of operations by U.S. forces in eastern Afghanistan targeted an al-Qaida leader and a bomb-making cell, killing 19 militants, the coalition said Saturday.

Afghan police said they had investigated unconfirmed reports that civilians may have been killed and found that only militants died.

The operations took place Friday in Nangarhar and Khost provinces, volatile regions along the Pakistan border.

In the deadliest operation, the coalition said it killed 10 militants during a strike against a bomb-making cell under the command of Jalaluddin Haqqani, a fierce militant leader believed to operate out of Pakistan.

Wazir Pacha, the spokesman for Khost’s provincial police chief, said a delegation of police had been sent to investigate whether civilians had been killed and had found no such evidence.

The governor of Khost, Arsallah Jamal, said it was unlikely that civilians would have been in the region where the operation took place.

Lt. Cmdr. Walter Matthews, a U.S. military spokesman, said his office had not received any reports of civilian injuries or deaths.

“We go well out of our way to plan those operations and we do whatever we can to make sure we don’t harm any civilians,” he said.

Civilian deaths have long been a problem in Afghanistan for U.S. and NATO forces, and President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly pleaded with international troops to avoid such killings, saying they undermine support for the government and turn Afghans against the U.S. and NATO.

In a separate operation in Nangarhar, the U.S.-led coalition said it targeted a known al-Qaida leader believed to have helped move foreign fighters and weapons into Kunar province. The coalition said militants engaged the force with gunfire. Coalition troops returned fire and killed five militants, including an armed female, it said.

Afghanistan is suffering through one of the most violent years since the 2001 U.S.-led invasion ousted the Taliban’s hard-line Islamist regime for sheltering al-Qaida.

More than 5,300 people have died in insurgency-related violence this year, according to an Associated Press count of figures from Western and Afghan officials.

Elsewhere, a Taliban spokesman, Zabiullah Mujahid, said the militant group released two aid workers from Bangladesh whom they had kidnapped in Ghazni province late last month. Zabiullah said Bangladesh has no troops in Afghanistan and there was no reason to hold the men.

Kidnappings in Afghanistan have skyrocketed over the past year. Some are carried out by the Taliban, while others are conducted by criminal gangs seeking lucrative ransom payments.

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