ASADABAD, Afghanistan (Reuters) - Foreign troops killed an Afghan child and wounded four others when responding to insurgent fire in volatile eastern Kunar province, the provincial Governor said on Monday, the third accidental killing of young civilians in less than a week.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said it had killed “four armed individuals” in Kunar’s Ghazi Abad district on Sunday, but was looking into allegations of civilian casualties there.
Fazlullah Wahidi, governor of Kunar, said a group of girls had been collecting firewood near an insurgent hideout and were struck when ISAF troops that had come under attack returned fire. A 10-year-old girl was killed, and four others wounded.
“The artillery fired by the ISAF convoy hit the girls, who were close to the insurgents,” Wahidi told Reuters in a telephone interview from Kunar.
ISAF said in a statement that soldiers had observed four armed men in camouflage moving into an previously used fighting position, before opening fire and killing them. The position was located in a remote area, well away from any villages, it added.
If confirmed, this would be the third time in less than a week that NATO troops have killed young Afghan civilians.
On Saturday, ISAF said its troops mistakenly killed a 15-year-old boy during an operation with Afghan forces to capture a Taliban insurgent in eastern Nangarhar province.
ISAF also apologized for the death of a teenage woman and an Afghan policeman on Wednesday, during a joint raid by Afghan and foreign troops on a compound in Nangarhar.
Insurgents are responsible for well over half of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, figures from the United Nations show, but many non-combatants are still killed by NATO-led forces.
These deaths are a major source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers, and complicate efforts to win support from ordinary Afghans for an increasingly unpopular war.
In March the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan made a rare apology for an air strike that killed nine children, who like the girls hit in Kunar were out collecting firewood. U.S. President Barack Obama also expressed “deep regret” over the deaths.
Despite the presence of around 150,000 foreign troops, violence across Afghanistan last year reached its worst levels since the Taliban were overthrown in late 2001, with record casualties on all sides of the conflict.
The Taliban this month announced the start of their “spring offensive,” promising more suicide bombs and other attacks after weeks of deadly violence around the country and a dramatic jail break in southern Kandahar province.
On Monday an insurgent mortar attack in another Kunar district, Wata Pour, killed three civilians and wounded another eight including four women and two children, the interior ministry said in a statement.
Writing by Hamid Shalizi; Editing by Emma Graham-Harrison and Alex Richardson