Afghan governor: Airstrike kills 3; NATO denies

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The governor of an eastern province in Afghanistan alleged on Thursday that an overnight NATO airstrike killed three civilians and wounded seven there, a claim the US-led coalition flatly denied.

Sayed Fazelullah Wahidi claimed the three civilians — two women and a child — died in the airstrike allegedly carried out by a drone in the Noorgaram area of the Dara-i Peach district.

“This claim is not true,” the U.S.-led International Assistance Force said. “ISAF takes allegations of civilian causalities very seriously. We do not have any operational reporting that supports the … allegations within the Kunar province.”

Wahidi did not say how he came to the conclusion that the three were killed by an airstrike or that it was carried out by a drone. He only said the Afghans were killed and wounded “as a result of a drone attack by the foreign forces.”

“We are investigating how this incident took place and why civilians became the victims of this attack,” he said.

Kunar is on the border with Pakistan and has seen heavy fighting between Afghan government forces and insurgents. Parts of the province have also come under shelling from Pakistan, where insurgents retain safe havens in the tribal areas.

Afghanistan has also blamed Pakistani military forces of shelling parts of the province near the frontier. Islamabad says Pakistani militants are based in the area and stage cross-border attacks.

Civilian casualties have been a contentious issue in Afghanistan, with the insurgents blamed for the overwhelming majority of them.

They have soared in recent weeks as the Taliban and other insurgents attack around the country to test the Afghan security forces, now that international troops have stepped back in preparation for the withdrawal of most of them next year.

In just the past two weeks of the escalating spring offensive, violence has killed or wounded more than 412 Afghan civilians, 24 percent more than the same time last year, the U.N. said Monday. It blamed insurgents for 84 percent of those deaths.

Earlier Thursday, a civilian was killed when a bomb exploded inside a restaurant in the northern city of Sari Pul. Another 13 people were wounded, said provincial police chief Gen. Abdul Raouf Taj.

In western Farah province, government spokesman Abdul Rahman Zhawandai said insurgents gunned down two tribal elders as they drove into the provincial capital.

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Associated Press writer Patrick Quinn contributed to this report from Kabul.

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