A delegation sent by Afghan President Hamid Karzai visits Kunar province… (Meer Afzal / EPA )
KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan killed 11 civilians, 10 of them children, in addition to the Taliban militants it was trying to hit, Afghan officials said.
The strike late Saturday in the Shigal district of restive Kunar province near Pakistan was called by coalition forces after they and their Afghan counterparts came under an attack that killed one American advisor and badly wounded four Afghan troops.
The American death was reported on Saturday, but details of the alleged civilian casualties only surfaced Sunday.
Wasifullah Wasifi, spokesperson for the governor of Kunar province, said the strike killed seven Taliban militants who were its target. In addition to the 10 children, one civilian woman was killed and five other women were wounded, he said.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said in a statement that six Taliban were killed in the airstrike. Accounts among different Afghan agencies sometimes differ.
Two of the dead, Taliban commanders Ali Khan and Gul Raouf, were the main planners and organizers of terrorist activities, armed assaults and explosions in the district and other parts of Kunar province, the ministry said.
NATO's International Security Assistance Force said it was investigating the airstrike and couldn’t immediately confirm reports that a large number of children were killed.
"We are still assessing the situation," said John Manley, an ISAF spokesperson. "We’re aware of the allegations that civilians died. We take these seriously."
Initial reports were that the strike took place away from buildings, Manley said, adding that he had no immediate information on how many insurgents were killed or the type of aircraft involved in the airstrike.
On the same day as the airstrike, six Americans died in attacks in Afghanistan, making Saturday the deadliest day for Americans in the country since last summer.
The attacks included a car bomb that killed three U.S. soldiers, a young American diplomat and a U.S. Defense Department contractor in the southern province of Zabul. Another American was killed in an attack in eastern Afghanistan, authorities said.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO forces have been a highly contentious issue in Afghanistan and a source of growing tension between Washington and the administration of President Hamid Karzai. Karzai has forbidden Afghan troops from calling for airstrikes, and NATO advises crews not to drop bombs or fire in populated areas.
Wasifi said relatives of the dead children brought their bodies to the district governor's offices Sunday to protest.
"These airstrikes should be stopped in Afghan villages," said Abdul Wahid Taqat, a Kabul-based military analyst and a former general. "The real Al Qaeda and Taliban problem isn’t here, it’s on the other side of the border in Pakistan and airstrikes should be targeted over there."
Taqat said Pakistan receives huge sums of money from foreign governments to fight terrorism, but its intelligence agency often routes the money back into training insurgents.
"Pakistan receives money from the West to fight terrorism, but in fact helps terrorists," he said. "Our neighbors are trying to increase instability in our country to further their interests."