KABUL — At least 40 suspected insurgents were killed Saturday in a spate of rare late-season clashes, including an airstrike in northeastern Afghanistan in which 25 people reportedly died, NATO officials said.
Afghan authorities said NATO soldiers also killed seven civilians employed by a private security company early Saturday during an operation in the southeastern province of Paktia. The incident appeared to be one of the most serious cases of civilian casualties in recent months.
The fighting Saturday came a day after a roadside bomb killed 15 civilians in southern Afghanistan, according to Afghan officials.
The timing of the bloodshed was unusual. Fighting typically tapers off during the winter months as Afghan insurgents hunker down.
The violence also occurred days before the Obama administration is due to receive an assessment from U.S. agencies of the state of the war, a year after it authorized the dispatch to Afghanistan of an additional 30,000 troops.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said on a visit to Afghanistan last week that he was heartened by what he called signs of progress. But his trip through provinces where tough battles are being waged provided a sobering glimpse of the Taliban's resilience.
NATO's statement on the latest deadly military operations, issued late Saturday, provided few details about events that preceded the airstrike in the Nari district of Konar province.
An air weapons team shot at suspected insurgents after NATO soldiers "reported an imminent threat," the statement said without elaborating.
Meanwhile, in Darah-ye Pech district, also in Konar, NATO soldiers came under attack from rocket-propelled grenades and small-arms fire while attempting to deactivate a bomb, military officials said. The soldiers shot back, "killing numerous insurgents," the statement said.
Clashes in the south, including an airstrike in Kandahar province, also led to the deaths of an unspecified number of suspected insurgents, NATO officials said.
NATO said none of its troops died during Saturday's fighting.
Military officials said they were investigating the circumstances that caused the deaths of the seven employees of a private security company in Paktia province early Saturday.
NATO and Afghan soldiers were pursuing insurgents implicated in a recent suicide bombing near a NATO base in the province when they approached a vehicle with armed men, officials said. Soldiers instructed the men to exit the vehicle.
When one of them got out carrying an AK-47 assault rifle, the soldiers "assessed the individual to be hostile and shot him," NATO said in a separate statement. A shootout ensued between the man's colleagues and the soldiers, which resulted in the deaths of the six other men.