An Afghan policeman inspects a house after an operation by Afghan and foreign… (Parwiz, Reuters )
Reporting from Kabul, Afghanistan, and New Delhi — Hundreds of Afghans demonstrated Saturday after a 15-year-old boy was killed by U.S. forces in a volatile eastern province. At least one protester died in the melee.
The teen was shot to death late Friday in Nangarhar province while trying to pull a gun on Afghan and U.S. troops, Western military officials said.
On Saturday morning, villagers carried the body to an administrative center, where protests broke out. Demonstrators started throwing rocks, then burned police vehicles before some fired on police, according to local reports. An official told the Reuters news agency that at least one protester was killed and three injured after police returned fire.
The often-inadvertent killing of Afghan civilians by foreign troops is a major source of friction between Western allies and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, undermining a joint bid to win the "hearts and minds" of the Afghan public in the fight against the insurgency.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force confirmed in a statement Saturday that its troops had killed the boy while on a mission with Afghan soldiers.
Afghan and foreign troops ordered the boy to come out of his room so they could search his compound for an unnamed Taliban leader, the statement said. The boy, who kept a shotgun and a pistol near his bed, reached for one of them.
Weapons are prevalent in Afghanistan, particularly in lawless rural areas, where they are kept for protection.
Further inflaming tension, the killing was the second such incident in Nangarhar in as many days. On Thursday, foreign and Afghan troops killed a policeman and a girl during a raid on their compound.
Violence in Afghanistan is at its highest level since U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban nearly a decade ago.
The worsening security climate comes as the United States discusses drawing down troops and turning over more responsibility to the Afghans. This month's killing of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan has strengthened calls in some Washington policy circles to speed up the U.S. withdrawal.
A U.N. report released this year identified 2010 as the deadliest year for Afghan civilians, with 2,777 killed, a 15% increase from 2009. Although the report blames insurgents for three-quarters of the deaths, civilian fatalities at the hands of foreign troops cause the greatest outrage in Afghan communities.