Fourteen Afghan security guards were killed in a clash with US-led troops, a provincial governor said today, but the military said they were suspected militants who fired first. Three destroyed vehicles remaining at the scene after the fighting in the eastern province of Khost late yesterday were scorched and pocked with bullet holes. The Khost governor Arsala Jamal said they were security guards for a road construction company, rejecting suggestions from the US-led coalition that the men were militants involved in a Taliban-led insurgency.
"None of them is alive to say how it happened ... but I know they were not Taliban. They were security guards working for 250 dollars a month," Mr Jamal said. A spokesman for US Forces Afghanistan said its troops had been following the vehicles when the occupants, armed with rocket-propelled grenade launchers, got out and opened fire on them. "There were three vehicles, they got out with weapons and started firing. We returned fire," Colonel Greg Julian said.
"The helicopter was an overwatch and when the suspects started firing, we fired back and the helicopters also fired on the vehicles." "Anybody that is going to fire on the coalition is not necessarily a friend of the Afghan government," he added. The clash took place about 12km north-east of the provincial capital, also called Khost, and about two kilometres from an international military base.
There are tens of thousands of international soldiers in Afghanistan to help the government fight an insurgency led by the Taliban, who were in government between 1996 and 2001. There have been dozens of incidents in which they have been accused of killing Afghan security forces or civilians, sometimes by mistake or after false intelligence. The foreign forces also say militants deliberately operate among civilians for their own protection.