KABUL (Reuters) – NATO-led forces accidentally killed four Afghan civilians in a mortar attack overnight, the alliance said on Sunday, the latest of a string of mistakes that have hurt public support for the presence of foreign troops.
Afghan officials say U.S.-led coalition airstrikes killed more than 60 Afghan civilians, many of them women and children, in the east of the country earlier this month. U.S. forces have launched investigations into the incidents.
While NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) denied reports by Afghan officials that it killed 50 civilians in the west of the country last week, many Afghans believe foreign troops do not take enough care to avoid hurting innocents.
The latest incident occurred in the Barmal district of the eastern province of Paktika, close to the Pakistani border, ISAF said.
“An ISAF unit fired two mortar rounds, which landed nearly 1 km (0.6 miles) away from the intended target,” ISAF said in a statement. “Shortly afterwards wounded civilians presented themselves for treatment at an ISAF base, and a helicopter medical evacuation mission was immediately launched to assist.” There were another three unconfirmed deaths, it said, and four civilians were also wounded in the attack.
“ISAF deeply regrets this accident, and an investigation as to the exact circumstances of this tragic event is now under way,” the statement said.
Mostly U.S. troops in the east of the country are battling a sharp rise in violence along the Pakistani border this year which they put down to de facto ceasefires between militants and the military in Pakistan’s tribal belt which allow the Taliban sanctuaries to launch more strikes into Afghan soil.