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Five children among victims of roadside bombing in Afghanistan

Twelve civilians are killed in the explosion set off by insurgents in Paktika province while resentment continues to simmer over the deaths of nine boys last week in a NATO airstrike.

March 07, 2011|By Laura King, Los Angeles Times

Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan — Five children were among the 12 people killed Sunday when their car hit a roadside bomb planted by insurgents in eastern Afghanistan, provincial officials said.

They were the latest victims in a surge of civilian deaths. However, Sunday's deaths in Paktika province were all but overshadowed by increasing tensions between President Hamid Karzai and the Western military over the killings of nine children last week in a NATO airstrike.

Gen. David H. Petraeus, the American commander of the Western force, extended personal apologies for that mistaken helicopter strike, which came as the boys, all under the age of 14, were gathering firewood on a mountainside in rugged Kunar province.

At a meeting Sunday the Afghan leader bluntly informed the general that the apology was insufficient and declared that civilian deaths caused by the NATO force were "no longer acceptable," presidential aides said.

Insurgents consistently cause far more noncombatant deaths than do Western troops, several independent groups have said. However, civilian casualties tied to military operations by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization force have long been a source of friction between Karzai and his Western backers. The latest case was considered particularly egregious because it involved children.

Highlighting public anger over the deaths, several hundred protesters gathered in central Kabul amid a slushy snowfall to denounce the airstrike. Some chanted, "Death to America!"

Military officials said air and artillery fire was mistakenly directed at the group of boys after insurgents operating in the same area fired on a remote American base. Petraeus said helicopter crews were being re-briefed on rules of engagement, and suggested that those involved in the strike might be disciplined.

Of civilian deaths caused by insurgents, most are the result of suicide bombings or improvised explosive devices, or roadside bombs. IEDs are aimed mainly at Western forces, but civilians use virtually all the same roadways, and their rickety cars and trucks are much more vulnerable than the armored vehicles in which troops usually ride.

Particularly in poor rural areas, it is not uncommon for a dozen or more people to travel in the same crowded vehicle. Provincial officials said in addition to the five children killed Sunday, two women and five men died in the blast. Five people were injured, said Mukhlis Afghan, a provincial spokesman.

Mohibullah Samim, the Paktika governor, called the bombing the work of "enemies of peace and our country" who had "once again showed their cruel face." Karzai also condemned the killings, joined by the NATO force and the U.S. Embassy.

Several militant groups are active in Paktika, which is a prime infiltration route for fighters crossing into Afghanistan from Pakistan's tribal areas.

laura.king@latimes.com

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