ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday condemned the killing of 10 civilians in an attack in the remote northeast on Saturday night and promised an investigation.
One of the dead was a school student, a statement from the president’s office said, killed in what the police chief of Kunar province described as a “commando-style” assault on a fort where two or three families live.
But disparate reports of the deaths are emerging from the isolated, Taliban-dominated area in Narang district, near the border with Pakistan.
The governor of Kunar province said he had been told that it was an airstrike and eight of the victims were students.
“Elders of the village have told us that 10 people have been killed in this airstrike. Eight of them were school students, relatives of each other,” Sayed Fazlullah Wahedi told Reuters.
Foreign coalition forces said that all the dead are insurgents, he added, without giving further details.
It is difficult to pin down details of the attack, because the area is inaccessible and hostile, Wahedi and the Kunar provincial police chief Khalilulah Ziaye said.
“Our investigation is not over yet, the area is very remote, and difficult to access for security personnel. The reports that we have received from people (residents) is that they were school students, in class 10 and 11,” Ziaye said.
This would mean the students are 16 or 17, but in rural Afghanistan poverty and other disruptions mean there can be a wide divergence of ages in any one class.
“So we are working to see whether they were only students, and not doing anything else, to make sure that they were innocent,” Ziaye added.
NATO-led forces in Afghanistan said they would look into the report of civilian deaths but declined immediate comment.
Civilian casualties caused by Western forces have stoked anger toward foreign troops, which NATO commander U.S. General Stanley McChrystal says undermines his mission. Since taking command in June, McChrystal has issued new orders designed to reduce civilian deaths by placing limits on firepower use.
Afghans are concerned that the influx of 30,000 more U.S. troops ordered by President Barack Obama early this month to try and turn the tide of the war will result in more attacks and higher civilian casualties.
Additional reporting by Sayed Salahuddin in Kabul; Writing by Emma Graham-Harrison; Editing by Louise Ireland