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Afghan, US Forces Shoot, Wound Five Civilians: NATO
KABUL - Five Afghan civilians were shot and wounded by US and Afghan troops outside a military base in a restive area of the war-torn country, NATO said Friday, also reporting the death of an American soldier.
The incident involving the civilians took place in the Garmsir district of Helmand province on Wednesday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement -- where a violent demonstration took place a day earlier.
An ISAF spokesman said warning shots were fired as a crowd of up to 400 people gathered outside the gate of a military base, Combat Outpost Sher.
On Tuesday seven people were killed during a demonstration sparked by rumours that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran in an operation the previous day, officials said earlier this week.
Referring to the Wednesday incident, Lieutenant Todd Breasseale told AFP: "The five Afghan civilians were wounded by bullets."
"A combined ISAF and ANA (Afghan National Army) force was outside the outpost. In the crowd, five or six individuals were threatening ISAF and ANA soldiers," he said.
"There were warning shots and the five or six individuals that were an imminent threat were targeted," he added.
In its statement, ISAF said a crowd of between 200 and 400 people were told to keep their distance from the gate of the base.
"However, a number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots.
"Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick.
"ISAF forces medically evacuated five wounded civilians to the nearby Forward Operating Base Dwyer treatment facility," it said.
A government investigation team looking into the rumours that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran found they had been spread by Taliban operatives and were unfounded.
But during the demonstration Tuesday shooting broke out and seven people -- six civilians and an Afghan intelligence official -- were killed.
There was nothing in the ISAF statement Friday to indicate what had sparked the demonstration that led to the shootings on Wednesday.
The Taliban, who have a heavy presence in Helmand province, often whip up resentment against foreign forces deployed to fight them.
There are 113,000 international troops fighting the insurgents, with another 40,000 being deployed this year.
Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue among Afghans, and are often seized on by President Hamid Karzai to bolster support for his government.
A UN report released this week said civilian casualties rose 14 percent last year over 2008 but the overwhelming majority, 67 percent, were in Taliban attacks.
NATO also reported Friday that a US soldier had been killed by the type of crude bomb used by Taliban militants in their war against the Kabul government.
"An ISAF service member from the United States was killed today (Thursday) in southern Afghanistan as the result of an IED strike," said a statement from ISAF, referring to an improvised explosive device.
The death brings to 23 the number of foreign soldiers to have been killed in Afghanistan so far this year, according to an AFP count based on a tally kept by independent website icasualties.org.
Elsewhere, a roadside bomb that exploded beneath a car on Friday killed four children aged two to 14 years old and a woman in the Spin Boldak district of Kandahar, the commander of the border police General Abdul Razik, told AFP.
ISAF also reported a separate incident in neighbouring Kandahar province in which two people were killed by soldiers who had been targeted by a remote-control bomb while on patrol.
A rocket exploded in central Kabul Friday evening, the head of the capital's criminal investigation bureau told AFP, but he said there were no casualties.