By Samiullah Paiwand
KABUL (Reuters) - Afghan and international special forces staged a night raid in the country's restive east, with police on Wednesday saying five civilians died in the operation, four of them children.
While the defense ministry said there had been no civilian deaths in the overnight operation in Logar province, Reuters television footage taken in the village, Sejewand, showed the bodies of at least three children.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai has previously criticized special forces raids in Afghan villages, particularly those in which civilians are killed.
An Interior Ministry statement said 23 Taliban fighters were killed and 26 captured during the fighting in Sejewand.
Logar police official Rais Khan Seddiq said the operation was undertaken by Afghan commandos, assisted by international special forces, in order to rescue two Afghan soldiers captured the previous day by the Taliban.
"Two civilians were killed and three were wounded," Seddiq said, adding that those wounded had later died. Four of the dead were children, he said.
The defense ministry rejected any notion of civilian deaths. The ministry's head of operations, Afzal Aman, told Reuters that all those killed or detained had been carrying weapons.
"We ... do not accept the claim of civilian casualties. All those killed or detained were armed, but an investigation is occurring and it will become clear if there are any civilians among the dead," he said.
Allegations of disappearances and illegal killings in neighboring Wardak province prompted Karzai to halt all U.S. special operations there last month. While he also ordered international troops out of some areas of the province, that has yet to occur.
Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at least 40 civilians had been killed during the fighting, but later revised that figure to 28.
The Taliban often claim their fighters killed in battle were civilians, an ISAF spokesman said.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) says it has reduced civilian casualties in recent years, and insurgents such as the Taliban are now responsible for 84 per cent of all such deaths and injuries.
(Additional Reporting by Mirwais Harooni; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Ron Popeski)