Workmen or militants? Row over 14 killings by U.S. Army

The U.S. military says it’s killed 14 militants in Afghanistan's eastern Khost province – but the province authorities say those killed were construction workers. The shootout happened as gunmen opened fire after U.S. troops stopped their vehic

It's the latest in a series of strikes as the Afghan Army and coalition forces combat the Taliban in a country that's gearing up for presidential elections next year.

Last week an American missile was said to have killed 40 civilians and wounded 28 others at a wedding party in the southern province of Kandahar.

“What have these innocent people done wrong, the children and women who are now under rubble?” said local man Mohammad Asim. “We saw their limbs thrown into the sky during the bombing.”

The incident is being investigated by the U.S. military.

According to an Afghan parliamentary investigation, an air strike in July in the Eastern province of Nangarhar also struck a wedding, killing 47 civilians, including the bride.

Casualties are also mounting among NATO troops. More have died in Afghanistan this year than in any other year since the 2001 invasion.

There's also concern about how Islamic militants are using Pakistan's northwest border region as a sanctuary from the escalating battle in neighbouring Afghanistan. It's led American forces to launch cross-border strikes, much to the chagrin of the Pakistan government.

“If the Americans act wisely then we’ll be able to isolate the tribes from the militants who are a threat to the world,” said Pakistan Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani. “But with the drone attacks it is tantamount to uniting the militants with the tribes. This will be counterproductive for Pakistan.”

U.S. troops make up about sixty per cent of  the 47,000-strong NATO force in Afghanistan. Another brigade is due to arrive in January, but beyond that, decisions on the size and timing of any further additions will be up to President-elect Barack Obama.

“I would expect there is real commitment to do more in terms of troops, in terms of development aid, in terms of support and assistance and to really work with the Afghan government to do more,” said Richard Boucher, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian affairs.

Afghanistan is holding presidential elections in 2009, the second direct vote for the presidency in the country's history. Experts are already warning the vote is likely to be the most dangerous and challenging in the country since the Taliban regime was ousted from power in late 2001. The Taliban has already threatened to attack polling stations and candidates.