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U.S.: Taliban caused deaths of civilians in wedding party

KABUL, Afghanistan – Taliban fighters held a wedding party captive and fired on U.S. forces in an attack designed to draw U.S. airstrikes on civilians and stoke anti-American sentiment, a U.S. official said Friday, citing “firsthand” reports.

The official declined to give further details of the reported events leading to the U.S. bombing Monday in the southern Afghan village of Wech Baghtu, where dozens of civilians and insurgents were killed.

But such a tactic by the Taliban could mean significant complications for U.S. forces and allies – forcing them to break off attacks and pursuit of extremists in populated areas for fear that the Taliban would try to maximum civilian casualties.

Civilian deaths in Afghanistan have become an increasing point of tension between Washington and President Hamid Karzai and could be one of the first major challenges for President-elect Barack Obama.

Afghan officials said Friday that a joint investigation found that 37 civilians and 26 insurgents were killed in Wech Baghtu, a Taliban stronghold in Kandahar province. The U.S. official said the inquiry found that 20 civilians died.

The U.S. assertion Friday represents the first detailed intelligence on an apparent Taliban strategy to bring innocent lives into the crossfire, the official told The Associated Press.

“We have firsthand knowledge that we know this was a deliberate act on the part of the Taliban to draw our forces into a fight and to cause civilian casualties, knowing that a wedding party was going on,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

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DAILY DEVELOPMENTS

• Shiite clerics warned the Iraqi government Friday not to sign a security pact that would keep U.S. troops in Iraq until 2012, as the prime minister studied what U.S. officials described as the final draft of the agreement.

• Two Iraqi insurgent groups reportedly called on President-elect Obama to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq and abandon the war on terrorism.

The Associated Press

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