KANDAHAR, AFGHANISTAN – Australian soldiers in southern Afghanistan shot dead two children tending cattle, officials said Saturday, in an incident likely to escalate tensions over the conduct of international troops.
Civilian casualties caused by NATO-led forces have been one of the most contentious issues in the campaign against Taliban insurgents, often triggering widespread public anger and harsh criticism from President Hamid Karzai.
The two children, aged 7 and 8, were killed Thursday morning as Australian soldiers fought back after a Taliban attack in Uruzgan Province, provincial Gov. Amir Mohammad Akhundzada said.
“The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one,” Akhundzada said, adding that insurgents had first shot at a helicopter carrying Australian soldiers.
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force expressed its “deep regret” over the children’s deaths and said it remains committed to minimizing civilian casualties.