KABUL (Reuters) - NATO-led forces said on Monday that foreign forces had accidentally killed three children in southeast Afghanistan, a toll that fuelled mounting anger over civilian casualties.
The deaths, in Paktika province, were expected to deepen the rift between foreign forces and the Afghan government, which says more than 500 civilians have been killed during operations by foreign and Afghan forces this year.
The U.S. military said earlier that U.S.-led coalition and Afghan troops had killed more than 220 suspected Taliban militants in strikes in southern Afghanistan last week, the biggest insurgent toll reported in recent weeks.
In the latest incident, troops fired artillery rounds after a patrol came under fire from insurgents in Paktika’s Gayan district, the International Security Assistance Force said.
The rounds fell close to a house where three children were later found dead. Seven civilians were wounded.
“ISAF deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way,” the ISAF said in a statement.
Several residents and a lawmaker said scores of civilians had died in the anti-Taliban operation in the Sangin district of Helmand province last week, yet another allegation of civilian deaths as fighting intensifies across the country this summer.
“There is basically no Taliban (killed). The Taliban fire and then escape and then these people (foreign troops) come and bombard. Three hundred people have been killed and wounded,” said lawmaker Dad Mohammad Khan, who used to be a provincial intelligence chief.
Several residents rang a Reuters reporter to say that more than 70 civilians had been killed in air strikes by foreign forces in the operation in Helmand’s Sangin.
U.S. military spokesman Nathan Perry said he was not aware of any civilian deaths in that four-day operation.
“The operation is mostly wrapped up. The troops killed more than 220 militants,” he said.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its worst level this year, the bloodiest period since the Taliban’s ouster in 2001.
In Kabul, hundreds of protesters blocked a road, accusing foreign troops of killing three members of a family, including two children, in a raid earlier in the day.
The U.S. military said it had nothing to do with the incident.
Residents said troops carried out a pre-dawn raid in the Hud Kheil area in eastern Kabul, killing a man identified by neighbors as Noorullah and two of his sons.
“They threw hand grenades on one house and killed three family members,” Sulaiman, a resident, said. Noorullah’s wife was wounded, he said.
Local television showed footage of bodies and a damaged house.
“Are these two children al Qaeda?” an angry resident asked as the bodies were taken for burial.
Several U.S. and NATO military bases are located in the area. The troops took away three people, residents said.
President Hamid Karzai last week ordered a review of foreign troops in Afghanistan after his administration said 96 civilians were killed in a coalition air raid in western Herat.
The U.S. military said it had targeted militants and that an investigation was being carried out.
Additional reporting by Mirwais Afghan; Writing by Sanjeev Miglani; editing by Tim Pearce