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NAT0's air strike may have killed civilians

A NATO-led air strike on a remote Afghan village killed six civilians, including two children, Afghan officials said yesterday, but Western forces said they had targeted armed militants.

Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops hunting the Taliban have become a major cause of friction between the Afghan government and its Western allies, and sapped support for Western forces in the country.

The attack hit a remote district of rugged, heavily forested Kunar province, which borders Pakistan and provides ideal cover for insurgents fighting the government in Kabul.

NATO-led forces said they called in air support after tracking a group of hostile fighters to a site where they saw no evidence of a civilian presence.

"Multiple intelligence sources provided positive identification of four to eight insurgents assembled in a known enemy area ... Intelligence intercepts indicated the hostile intent of the enemy to attack," a statement said.

However, the coalition forces planned to meet with local leaders for a combined investigation of the incident, and regretted "any possible civilian injury."

District police chief Mirza Mohammad said six people had been killed, all civilians, including a 3-year-old girl, a 10 year-old boy and a 40-year-old woman.

Another 16 people, including nine children, were wounded, the youngest a year-old infant. Three houses were destroyed, he said.

Last week five people including a seven-day old baby died during a United States-led operation in southeastern Khost province.

US forces initially said they had killed four insurgents but later acknowledged the dead were civilians defending their home.

US and NATO commanders say insurgents are still responsible for the majority of civilian deaths, but they have acknowledged that killing civilians has cost the Western troops support.

There are more than 70,000 foreign troops deployed in Afghanistan, with 21,000 extra US troops and more than 5,000 soldiers from other NATO countries promised or on their way.


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