Afghans say 7 police killed in U.S.-led strike

JALALABAD, Afghanistan Tue Jun 12, 2007 1:33pm EDT

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JALALABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - U.S.-led forces killed seven Afghan policemen, an official said on Tuesday, and three people were shot dead at a NATO checkpoint, raising concern about mistaken fire incidents in Afghanistan.

In a separate incident, gunmen riding on a motorbike opened fire on schoolgirls on their way home, killing two and wounding six, officials said.

Violence has surged in Afghanistan in recent months and with it, civilian casualties and cases of mistaken fire.

Efforts to cut civilian casualties will top the agenda of a meeting of NATO defence ministers in Brussels on Thursday amid growing concern the incidents could undermine public support for the mission both in Afghanistan and in NATO countries.

The policemen were killed in an air strike after the Taliban stormed police posts late on Monday in Khogiani district of the eastern province of Nangarhar, district police chief Adel Balwal told Reuters.

Police sent reinforcements and called for help from U.S. forces, he said. "In the coalition bombing, seven policemen lost their lives."

A U.S. military spokesman said he was aware of the raid but had no other details.

Thirteen policemen were missing, Balwal said.

If confirmed, the incident would be one of the most serious cases of mistaken fire on Western or Afghan forces by the U.S.-led coalition.

A Taliban spokesman said by telephone from an undisclosed location the militants had killed 12 policemen.

About 50,000 foreign troops led by the U.S. military and NATO are in Afghanistan, battling a resurgent Taliban and their al Qaeda allies. Last year was the bloodiest since the Taliban were ousted in 2001.

On Monday, more that two dozen insurgents were killed in the southern province of Kandahar in an eight-hour battle that began when the militants ambushed against coalition and Afghan police, the U.S. military said.

SCHOOLS ATTACKED

The schoolgirls were killed in Logar province, south of the capital Kabul, at the end of the school day. The unidentified attackers fled.

"Those who carried out this cowardly attack are the enemies of the country," Education Minister Hanif Atmar told reporters.

The government uses the term "enemies of Afghanistan" to refer to the Taliban and their al Qaeda allies.

During their rule, the Taliban barred girls from education and women from most work outside the home.

In recent years, Taliban insurgents have burned schools and killed teachers in their war against foreign troops and the Afghan government they support. They have also warned people not to send girls to school.

Separately, NATO forces killed three Afghans in the eastern province of Kunar on Monday after a car in which they were traveling failed to stop at a checkpoint, NATO said.

Two Afghans were wounded in the firing and residents of the area later protested.

More than 120 civilians have been killed by foreign forces in recent months, according to government officials and residents.

The International Committee of the Red Cross said on Tuesday violence had significantly intensified and was spreading to the north and west, bringing a "growing number of civilian casualties".

(Additional reporting and writing by Sayed Salahuddin)

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