Nine fighters were killed by small-arms fire and four killed by "precision close-air support", the statement said, adding that two other fighters were killed during a subsequent serach of the houses in the compound.

'Civilians killed'

One of the attackers killed in the initial fight was later identified as female, the US military statement said.

 

But Abdul Rahmzai, head of the provincial council in Laghman, said village elders had told him in the hours after the raid that those killed were civilians.

Rahmzai relayed questions from the Associated Press news agency to the village elders directly, who responded by saying that swear on the Quran that all those killed were innocent.

They said that women and children were among the dead, and told Rahmzai that they have no link to Taliban fighters.

Independent assessment by journalists and human-rights monitors of the competing claims is complicated by the level of danger in the territory to unarmed outsiders.

Competing claims

While Afghan villagers have been accused of inflating civilian death claims to receive more compensation, the US military has in the past been charged with not fully acknowledging the deaths of civilians due to its raids.

In the immediate wake of a battle in August in the village of Azizabad, the US military said no civilians were killed.

Eventually a US investigation found that 33 civilians had been killed in that raid.

The Afghan government and the UN said that 90 civilians died in the incident.

Hamid Karzai, the president of Afghanistan, said last week that the US and countries serving in the Nato military alliance are continuing air raids in civilian areas, despite his call for them to stop.

Kabul recently sent Nato headquarters a draft agreement that would give Afghanistan more control over future Nato deployments in the country.

The draft also says that Nato troops should no longer conduct searches of Afghan homes.

The US military is facing a stern challenge in maintaining order in Afghanistan in the face of a resurgent Taliban.

Extra troops

US marines are ready to leave Iraq quickly so that 20,000 soldiers can be sent to Afghanistan, James Conway, Marine Corps commandant, said on Friday.

"The time is right for marines to leave Iraq," the senior marine officer said.

About 2,200 marines are currently serving in Afghanistan, as part of the 34,000-strong US military contingent there.

In all, US military planners are expected to deploy a total of 30,000 extra troops to the country in the next 12 to 18 months, reflecting the emphasis that Barack Obama, the US president, is putting on the war in Afghanistan.

And while the US prepares to boost its forces, Karzai is coming under international pressure over the efficacy of his leadership.

"They have been holding on to Karzai in the hope of bringing about some semblance of governance in Afghanistan but recently Nato secretary-general Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said that the problems in Afghanistan stem from governance rather than from terrorism," Imtiaz Gul, a political analyst in the Pakistani capital Islamabad, told Al Jazeera.

"If we are to go by what Scheffer says, Karzai's days are numbered. There are going to be very tough elections in Afghanistan in the next few months."