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NATO airstrike kills insurgents, possibly civilians, in Afghanistan

Afghanistan map.
Afghanistan map.

KABUL (Reuters) - A NATO airstrike targeting insurgents in Afghanistan's lawless east hit a pickup truck carrying up to ten militants, officials said on Sunday, amid reports that at least eight civilians, including seven women and children, were also among the dead.

Civilian deaths have been a long-running source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his international backers. Karzai has forbidden Afghan troops from calling for foreign air strikes, though that ban is not always adhered to, and NATO advises crews not to fire at or bomb populated areas.

"We can confirm that we undertook a precision strike in Watarpur district of Kunar, and are able to confirm 10 enemy forces killed," a spokeswoman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), First Lieutenant AnnMarie Annicelli, said.

Watarpur is a rural district in the north of Kunar, a mountainous province that shares a long and porous border with lawless tribal areas of Pakistan. The province has long been considered a transit hub for foreign insurgents, including al Qaeda members, who fight alongside the Taliban.

While Kunar police chief Abdul Habib Sayed Khil and provincial governor Shuja ul Mulk Jalala said civilians had been killed in the incident, the NATO spokeswoman said the grouping had received no reports of civilian casualties.

Jalala and Khil said at least eight civilians, including three women, four children and the truck's driver, had been caught up in an airstrike targeting Taliban fighters. They added that the truck was hit after the driver gave the Taliban fighters a lift.

The strike occurred about 5 p.m. on Saturday, Jalala said.

(Reporting by Sultan Ahmad and Mohammad Anwar; Writing by Dylan Welch; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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