The demonstrators shouted "Stop the airstrikes on civilians," said Gen. Khalilullah Ziayi, the police chief in Kunar province.

Several hundred villagers protested on Wednesday against coalition strikes that they claim killed scores of civilians this week in a hotbed of the insurgency in the northeast. NATO has contested the claims, saying armed insurgents, not civilians, were killed.

Civilian casualties have long been a source of friction between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and the U.S.—led international force fighting in Afghanistan.

Mr. Karzai’s office issued a statement condemning the NATO strike.

“Innocent children who were collecting fire wood for their families during this cold winter were killed. Is this the way to fight terrorism and maintain stability in Afghanistan?” Mr. Karzai asked in the statement. He said NATO should focus more on “terrorist sanctuaries” - a phrase he typically uses when referring to Taliban refugees in neighbouring Pakistan.

The demonstrators shouted “Stop the airstrikes on civilians,” said Gen. Khalilullah Ziayi, the police chief in Kunar province.

The coalition is investigating the villagers’ allegations that nine civilians were killed on Tuesday following an insurgent attack on a forward operating base in the Pech Valley area of Kunar province. NATO said coalition forces returned the fire after two rockets were fired at the base, slightly wounding a local contractor.

Gen. Ziayi had a different account. He said coalition helicopters fired into the mountainous area, killing nine children gathering wood.

Late last month, tribal elders in Kunar claimed that NATO forces killed more than 50 civilians in air and ground strikes. The international coalition denied that claim too, saying video showed troops targeting and killing dozens of insurgents and a subsequent investigation yielded no evidence that civilians had been killed. An Afghan government investigation has said that 65 civilians were killed.

In Logar province on Tuesday, four Afghan soldiers and their interpreter were killed by a roadside bomb, according to Din Mohammad Darwesh, a spokesman for the province. He said on Wednesday that the soldiers were on a joint patrol with U.S. forces when their vehicle hit the bomb planted in Charkh district.

Keywords: Afghan crisis

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