Afghan officials yesterday said that 15 people — nine of them civilians, including women and children — were killed in an apparent NATO airstrike in an eastern province where the Taliban are strong.
NATO said 10 militants died in the strike and that it had no reports of any civilian deaths.
Civilian deaths in NATO operations have long been a sore point between the Afghan government and the US-led troops in the country, and they have been a major factor in the animosity many Afghans feel toward foreign forces.
Conflicting accounts of who or how many people died in such strikes also are common, especially when they occur in remote, dangerous regions where access by independent observers is restricted.
The latest disputed airstrike occurred in the Watapur District of Kunar Province, near the border with Pakistan.
The province is a militant stronghold and many Arab and other foreign insurgents are believed to operate there alongside the Afghan Taliban. Some are suspected of links to al-Qaeda.
Kunar Province Police head Abdul Habib Sayed Khaili said the airstrike hit a pickup truck carrying women and children in Qoro Willage soon after three Arab and three Afghan militants boarded it on Saturday evening.
Khaili said some reports called it a drone strike, but Afghan officials had been unable to confirm that. Of the 15 dead, four were women, four were children and one was the driver, the police official said.
Watapur District Chief Zalmai Yousefi confirmed the airstrike. He also said 15 people were killed, including several women and children.
NATO spokeswoman First Lieutenant AnnMarie Annicelli confirmed that the military alliance carried out a “precision strike” that killed 10 “enemy forces,” but that it had received no reports of any civilians dying in the airstrike.
Annicelli had no immediate details on who the dead were, or what prompted the airstrike.
Even as US-led foreign forces draw down their presence in Afghanistan, with a full exit expected by the end of next year, the air support they provide Afghan troops in many regions is still a crucial part of operations against the Taliban, the resurgent Islamist militant movement that wants to topple the US-backed Afghan government.
Past strikes that killed civilians have infuriated Afghans. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has spoken out forcefully against them and banned Afghan troops from requesting NATO airstrikes during operations in residential areas.
As the violence in Afghanistan has spread, civilians are increasingly getting caught up in it.
About 1,000 Afghan civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 wounded in the first half of this year — a huge portion of them in insurgent attacks — according to the UN. The figure marked a 24 percent increase in casualties compared with the same period last year.