The US military admitted that six Afghan children were killed in a bombing raid aimed at Islamic extremists, the second assault within a 24-hour period to result in child casualties.
A US spokesman said Wednesday that the bodies of the six were found under a collapsed wall after an air raid late Friday in eastern Afghanistan's Paktia province, among locations hit by a wave of violence blamed on Taliban and al-Qaeda rebels.
The admission follows protests from the United Nations and Afghan President Hamid Karzai over a US operation in the neighboring province of Ghazni on Saturday that left nine children dead.
The US military did kill six children in a US air raid in eastern Afghanistan last weekend, a military spokesman confirmed, the second such attack within 24 hours in which children died. (AFP/Shah Marai)
The deaths were the latest in a series of so-called "friendly fire" casualties to blight the US-led campaign in Afghanistan, one of the worst involving at attack on a wedding party in July 2002 that left 48 dead.
US Lieutenant Colonel Bryan Hilferty said aircraft and ground troops were hunting a Taliban militant identified as Mullah Jilani when they attacked a compound, 20 kilometers (13 miles) east of Paktia's capital Gardez.
"After we went there we discovered the bodies of two adults and six children under a collapsed wall," he told reporters in Kabul.
"I don't know what caused the collapse of wall because although we fired on the compound there were other explosions inside the compound," he said. The colonel did not identify the two adults but said that Jilani was not found.
Hilferty said troops had come under attack during the assault, prompting US forces to raid the compound from the air and ground. Nine suspected militants were captured and a large cache of weapons were recovered.
He said the assault was not part of Operation Avalanche, the biggest US offensive in Afghanistan since the 2001 fall of the Taliban, which was launched last week against extremists in east and south Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, President Karzai has demanded an explanation for the child deaths at Ghazni and dispatched investigators to the scene.
"It was a sad scene. We are trying to find out ways in the best possible manner to prevent incidents like that," he said Wednesday.
"We are thinking if aerial activity is helpful or if it causes suffering."
The UN has also urged a swift inquiry into the deaths and wants results to be made public, charging that the blunder "adds to a sense of fear and insecurity" following similar killings of innocent civilians.
It warned that civilian deaths had a "negative impact" on Afghans.
The latest attacks come against a backdrop of rising violence in many parts of Afghanistan blamed on the Taliban and their allies. Almost 400 lives have been claimed in the past four months with the US military under regular attack.
Militants have increasingly targeted aid and reconstruction workers as well as US and Afghan troops in an apparent bid to undermine urgently needed rebuilding work.
Some 11,500 US troops are hunting down Taliban and al-Qaeda holdouts, mainly along the rugged border with Pakistan.
© Copyright 2003 AFP