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Taliban say they do not hide among civilians

KABUL (Reuters) - Afghanistan’s Taliban denied on Tuesday that they hide among civilians while they fight foreign troops, and dismissed claims that the majority of their fighters were foreign.

Pakistani Taliban fighters sit in the back of a truck with their weapons in Buner, about 100 km northwest of Islamabad April 24, 2009. REUTERS/Stringer/Files

On Sunday a district Taliban commander from western Farah province said there was some truth in the allegation that Taliban fighters retreat to homes where their families live in villages where they operate.

But a spokesman for the Taliban denied the Taliban hide among civilians during battles with foreign troops.

“We have never put civilian lives in danger, but instead we are fighting for their protection, dignity and independence,” Qari Yousuf Ahmadi, a spokesman for the Taliban, said by telephone from an undisclosed location.

According to Afghan officials a U.S. air strike in Farah province in early May killed 140 civilians. The U.S. military says 20-35 civilians were killed along with about 60 people it believes were Taliban fighters.

U.S. officials say the Taliban had deliberately hidden among local villagers to put them in harm’s way, but Ahmadi said fighters were no longer in the area by the time of the strikes.

“On that day the Taliban killed some foreign troops who then retaliated by killing civilians. We should have asked them why they killed the civilians. During the bombings not even one Talib was present,” Ahmadi said.

Ahmadi also dismissed reports that most of the Taliban in Afghanistan were foreigners from countries such as Saudi Arabia or Pakistan.

“It’s illogical to say 60 percent of Taliban are foreign fighters, that is propaganda from the West,” Ahmadi said.

“Those who fight among us in the frontline are Afghans.”