France says troops kill four young Afghan civilians

PARIS (Reuters) - France’s army said on Thursday that four young Afghans were killed in crossfire in eastern Afghanistan this month, adding to a series of incidents involving NATO troops.

Civilians being killed by foreign forces has often led to protests in Afghanistan, sometimes violent, and has undermined public support for troops’ presence in the country.

The four civilians were killed by a missile attack during a joint French-Afghan anti-insurgent operation on April 6, army spokesman Christophe Prazuck said. A fifth Afghan was injured.

“Our conclusion is that these young Afghans were under trees, hidden from view of the observer, which explains why we he didn’t see them,” Prazuck said, adding the casualties were aged between 10 and 15 years of age.

“It was an accident (linked) to an attack by insurgents who attack in villages embedded within the population.”

A roadside bomb struck a passenger van in southeast Afghanistan on April 28, killing 12 civilians.

Home made bombs planted in roads are by far the deadliest weapon used by insurgents against NATO troops and Afghan government targets, and frequently kill civilians.

The United Nations said in a report in January that 2,400 civilians were killed last year in Afghanistan. Most were killed by insurgents, while the number killed by Western and government troops fell.

The U.N. report condemned the placement of military bases near areas where many civilians live, and violent “search and seizure” raids by pro-government and foreign troops.

France, the fourth biggest contributor to the Afghan international military mission with about 3,750 troops in the region, after the United States, Britain and Germany, has ruled out sending more combat troops.

Reporting by Elisabeth Pineau and John Irish