NATO airstrike 'kills two Afghan children'
A NATO helicopter strike killed two children in southern Afghanistan on Saturday, officials said, in the latest civilian casualties to beset the coalition's war against Taliban militants.
The operation close to Ghazni city was conducted after local people complained of a Taliban post targeting traffic convoys in the area, Mohammad Ali Ahmadi, the deputy governor of Ghazni province, said.
"It was a joint (Afghan and coalition) operation conducted this morning that killed nine Taliban. Unfortunately, two school children were also killed and seven other civilians were wounded," he said.
A spokesman for the NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it was aware of the reported civilian casualties and was seeking further information.
However he added that the ISAF helicopter engagement was not in direct support of Afghan forces, without giving further details.
It was unclear who called in the airstrike, but President Hamid Karzai recently banned Afghan forces from requesting foreign air support.
Civilian casualties mostly caused by air strikes have been one of the most sensitive issues in relations between Karzai and the NATO-led military.
The civilians were riding in two vehicles near the Taliban post when the attack took place, Mohammad Hassan Hadil, the deputy police chief of the province, said.
The deaths, if confirmed, would be another blow to the prestige of US-led NATO forces as they prepare to withdraw combat troops from the war against the Islamist insurgents by the end of next year.
Airstrikes by the US-led coalition killed 126 Afghan civilians last year, a nearly 50 percent drop from the year before, according to a recent UN report.
The overall civilian death toll in 2012 also declined some 12 percent to 2,754, compared with 3,131 the previous year, according to the annual report by the United Nations Mission to Afghanistan.
Four civilians, including a child, were killed in a two-day raid against Taliban insurgents by Afghan and international forces in Logar province earlier this week.