By Laura King, Los Angeles Times –
KABUL, Afghanistan — Eight rural Afghan women gathering fuel for fires were killed Sunday by a NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan, Afghan officials said, and mourning villagers carried their bodies to the provincial governor’s office in protest.
NATO acknowledged that a strike aimed at a group of insurgents had apparently also killed five to eight civilians.
A spokesman for the NATO coalition, U.S. Air Force Capt. Dan Einert, said the bombardment followed a “significant engagement” Sunday morning in the remote Alinger district of Laghman province. He said a unit of NATO’s International Security Assistance Force identified a group of about 45 insurgents with hostile intent and called in the airstrike, which killed a large number of them.
“Unfortunately, we are aware of civilian casualties as a result of this strike,” he said.
Sarhadi Zowak, a Laghman provincial spokesman, said in addition to the eight women killed, seven other women were wounded.
In recent years, NATO and Afghan government forces have been responsible for a shrinking proportion of civilian deaths, with nearly all such deaths and injuries blamed on insurgents. But airstrikes remain the single largest cause of civilian casualties caused by international forces.
Overall, the United Nations reported more than 3,000 civilians killed or injured by the conflict in the first half of this year, a drop of 15 percent from the comparable period a year ago. But that trend has reversed during the warm-weather months.