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KABUL (Reuters) - The U.S. military denied reports on Friday that an air strike in the eastern Afghan province of Nangarhar had killed as many as 16 civilians, saying the operation had killed only militant fighters.

"The militants were observed loading weapons into a vehicle and were under surveillance until the vehicle was destroyed by an air strike," said Bob Purtiman, a spokesman for the U.S. military in Afghanistan.

"The strike was conducted in the middle of open terrain. There was zero chance of civilian casualties," he said.

Earlier in the day, the district governor of Haska Mena district, Saaz Wali, told reporters that as many as 16 civilians, including women and children had been killed when a passenger van and a nearby house were hit by a U.S. air strike.

(Reporting by Hamid Shalizi and James Mackenzie; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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Reuters