Afghan President Hamid Karzai ordered an investigation after a provincial official said 11 children died during a daylong battle between coalition forces and Taliban fighters.
In a statement, the president’s office condemned the deaths of the children, who local officials said were between two months and seven years old, in the Shigel district of Kunar province. Karzai sent a delegation to probe claims that they died in a strike by U.S. aircraft. Seven Taliban militants, including commanders, were reported killed in the fighting, while four Afghan security personnel and five local women were wounded.
U.S. troops called in air support after they and Afghan forces came under fire late on April 5, provincial spokesman Wasifullah Wasifi said in a phone interview today. A “U.S. airstrike” was followed by “a severe gun battle” that lasted for 24 hours, he said.
The airstrike targeted houses where three brothers and their families lived, Wasifi said. All three were “famed Taliban militants,” he said. Remote and mountainous Kunar lies next to the country’s border with Pakistan, a frontier across which Taliban militants have found sanctuary.
Civilian casualties have become a significant stress point in the relationship between Karzai and his international backers. Karzai on Feb. 25 banned Afghan security forces from requesting airstrikes by NATO planes during operations.
Major Adam Wojack, a spokesman for NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, said the Kunar support was requested by coalition soldiers. He said one U.S. civilian also died in the violence which capped a bloody weekend in the Afghan war.
Five U.S. citizens, including two civilians, died in a April 6 suicide car bomb attack by the Taliban on their road convoy in southern Afghanistan, the deadliest attack on Americans in the country since July.
Anne Smedinghoff, a 25-year-old diplomat originally from Illinois, and a civilian interpreter for the Defense Department were among victims of the blast in Zabul province, according to the U.S. State Department and defense officials and ISAF. They were killed while on their way to donate books to a school, Secretary of State John Kerry said in the U.S. statement.
The attack took place hours after U.S. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, landed in Afghanistan in an unannounced visit to assess progress on local security forces’ preparations for taking control as U.S.-led international forces withdraw by the end of 2014, according to U.S. Department of Defense website.
Afghan forces are taking over a greater security role nationwide as the U.S. pulls its combat troops from a 12-year war with the Taliban.
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