KABUL - A night raid by NATO-led forces killed six civilians in the relatively peaceful northern Afghan province of Sar-e-Pul, local officials said Tuesday, but a statement from the U.S.-led coalition said the dead were Taliban insurgents armed with AK-47 assault rifles.

The disagreement adds to the debate surrounding night raids, which have become a centerpiece of U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan as coalition forces seek to kill or capture Taliban supporters.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has asked the International Security Assistance Force, the official name for the coalition, to halt the raids, one of which last month resulted in the death of a Karzai cousin in Kandahar in southern Afghanistan.

Night raids have been a source of friction between Karzai and the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan. Many of the raids are conducted independently by foreign troops without prior coordination with Afghan security forces.

Despite Karzai's demand that the raids be halted, ISAF insists that the raids have played an important role in weakening the Taliban.

Meanwhile, the Taliban have allowed the restoration of cellular phone services to parts of southwestern Afghanistan, two weeks after they ordered a shutdown to prevent people from giving away their movements to NATO forces, a government official and the insurgents said Tuesday.

The ban affected more than 800,000 cellular phone users in southwest Helmand province and another 100,000 in surrounding areas. Helmand remains a Taliban stronghold despite months of fighting between U.S.-led coalition forces and insurgents. The Taliban ordered the networks to close down about two weeks ago and blew up eight cell phone towers to enforce the ban.

The shutdown, which was honored by all four of Afghanistan's private cellular networks, shows the influence the Taliban wield in many parts of the country, despite a ramped-up campaign against them by coalition forces - who say they have stopped the insurgents in parts of the south.

Despite claims of success against the Taliban, government forces essentially control only the major cities and towns in many parts of the south and east.

US Toll in Afghanistan





Latest identification

• 1st Lt. Robert F. Welch III, 26, of Denton, Texas; was assigned to the 201st Brigade Support Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division, Fort Knox, Ky.

Source: Department of Defense