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U.S.: 37 Afghan civilians died in fighting

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan, Nov. 9 (UPI) -- Thirty-seven Afghan civilians died during fighting last week between U.S. forces and Taliban militants near Kandahar, officials acknowledged.

U.S. and Afghan officials, after conducting a joint investigation, also revealed 35 civilians were wounded in the village of Wech Bagtu outside the city of Kandahar, the Los Angeles Times reported Sunday.

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The admission of civilian deaths so soon after a reported incident is new for U.S. military officials in Afghanistan, who in the past have initially denied such incidents and frequently took weeks to investigate them, infuriating Afghan residents, the newspaper said.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has said the Western military intervention is losing public support because of civilian deaths from airstrikes. Last week, he used the opportunity of congratulating U.S. President-elect Barack Obama on his victory to plead for an end to airstrikes in civilian areas.

Afghan officials said the civilians died when U.S. missiles hit a wedding party, but investigators did not specifically verify that claim, saying U.S.-led coalition forces used "close air support to suppress enemy fire."

The investigation found Taliban militants used villagers as cover to attack coalition troops, the Times said.

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