By MIRWAIS KHAN (AP) – Jun 28, 2010

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — NATO said Monday that a Taliban commander was among several armed people killed during a search operation in Kandahar, but residents claimed the troops killed eight innocent civilians, including two elderly men.

NATO said in a statement that coalition and Afghan troops went to a compound outside Kandahar city where they immediately came under hostile fire. The troops returned fire in self-defense and killed several armed men, including Taliban commander, Shyster Uhstad Khan, who was involved in the purchase and distribution of roadside bombs, NATO said.

The coalition said the combined force also detained an individual who was suspected of having direct contact with senior Taliban leaders in Kabul and facilitated the delivery of explosive devices to the capital.

Residents describe the search operation differently in Kandahar, where Afghan and coalition forces are ramping up security in hopes of driving out insurgents, gaining the loyalty of residents and bolstering the Afghan government’s control of the Taliban stronghold.

Mohmodullah, a relative of some of the victims, told The Associated Press at the scene that eight civilians were killed when troops searched two homes around 2 a.m. Monday near Bagh-e-Pul.

“The NATO force climbed over our wall and shot two of my brothers and my father,” said Mohmodullah, who uses one name. “They did the search operation and they didn’t find anything in our home so who gave them the authority to do it? If they were Taliban, they need to show us proof. Otherwise, they should be punished for it.”

Mohammad Shah Farooqi, head of the investigation unit of the Kandahar police, agreed, saying, “We have no records on these people so it seems to me that they are locals or innocent people.” But he said he was still working on a final investigative report to send to his superiors.

Also Monday, NATO reported killing a local leader of the Haqqani group, a Taliban faction with close ties to al-Qaida, in an airstrike the night before in Khost province of eastern Afghanistan. The leader, known only as Satar, was responsible for planting roadside bombs in the area, NATO said.

President Hamid Karzai’s spokesman strongly denied a report aired by Al-Jazeera International that Karzai had held talks in Kabul with the commander of the Haqqani group, Sirajuddin Haqqani. The satellite television network said Haqqani was brought to Kabul by members of Pakistan’s spy service to show Pakistani influence within the insurgency.

“The report is completely baseless, there is no truth in it,” spokesman Waheed Omar said. “We strongly condemn those who try to create confusion among the public.”

In eastern Ghazni province on Monday, a minivan exploded when it struck a roadside bomb in Andar district. At least eight people were killed and two wounded in the blast, according to Mohammad Ismail Ibrahimzai, chief at the main hospital of Ghazni city.

June has become the deadliest month of the war for NATO troops with at least 99 killed, 56 of them American. For U.S. troops, the deadliest month was October 2009, with a toll of 59 dead.

In the capital Kabul, the lower house of parliament approved five new Cabinet members, including Gen. Bismullah Mohammadi as interior minister to replace the widely respected Hanif Atmar. He was dismissed this month along with the intelligence chief for allowing militants to elude a massive security operation and launch an attack on a national peace conference.

Two nominees — one for transport minister and the other higher education minister — were rejected. Both are ethnic Hazaras and their rejection angered lawmakers from the minority group.

“We are greatly disappointed,” said Hazara lawmaker Mohammed Akbari. “It looks like discrimination against the Hazara people. Both were very strong, educated people and very talented. Their rejection is a betrayal of the Hazara.”

Others approved included former Finance Minister Anwar ul-Haq Ahady as commerce minister; Jamaher Anwary as refugee minister; Abdul Qudos Hamidi as public works minister and former Kandahar Gov. Asadullah Khalid to head the border and tribal affairs ministry.

Thirteen ministers were confirmed earlier this year, leaving seven ministry posts open in the 25-member Cabinet.

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