Children among Afghans killed in NATO airstrike

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At least five civilians, including three children, were killed overnight in a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan after they went hunting for birds with air guns, local officials said Saturday.

Angry locals at the scene of the strike near Jalalabad city, the capital of Nangarhar province, shouted “Death to America” and “Death to Karzai” as they carried the victims' bodies through the area, an AFP reporter saw.

A NATO spokesman said Afghan and Coalition forces had responded to an attack with a “precision strike” and that “initial reports indicate there were no civilian casualties.”

Civilian deaths have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and U.S.-led NATO troops, who are winding down operations as they prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

“Last night around 11:00 pm, five civilians aged between 12 and 20 carrying air guns wanted to go hunting birds some eight kilometers [five miles] from the center of the city of Jalalabad. They were targeted and killed by a foreign forces airstrike,” provincial police spokesman Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal told AFP.

Lt Col Will Griffin told AFP that “while we are still assessing the situation, our initial reports indicate there were no civilian casualties.”

“We can confirm that Afghan and Coalition forces responded to an attack and conducted a coordinated precision strike against insurgents in Behsud district, Nangarhar province yesterday,” he said.

Mohammad Atif Shinwari, a spokesman for the Nangarhar education department told AFP that three of the victims were school children and two were brothers.

Last month, a NATO airstrike killed at least 16 civilians including women and children in neighboring Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan, according to local officials.

The airstrike hit a pickup truck and killed all on board, Afghan officials said. NATO said the strike had killed militants.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban launched their insurgency in 2001 after being ousted in a US-led invasion.

Also on Saturday, a roadside bomb ripped through a civilian vehicle in the western province of Farah killing at least three people, including a tribal elder.

“Unfortunately, three civilians, including an influential tribal elder, his son and a relative were killed in the explosion,” provincial spokesman Abdul Rahman Zhawandai told AFP.

No one claimed responsibility for the attack, but roadside bombs have been the Taliban weapon of choice.

As Afghan security forces take charge of security responsibility countrywide, violence has been on the increase.

More than 1,000 civilians were killed and around 2,000 others were injured in the first half of 2013, according to a U.N. report, a 23 percent increase from the same period last year.