KABUL, Afghanistan – A NATO airstrike struck two houses, killing as many as nine Afghan civilians and four insurgents in an eastern province near the Pakistani border, officials said Wednesday.
The attack occurred about 10 p.m. Tuesday during a joint NATO-Afghan operation in the Shigal district of Kunar province, a lawmaker from the area said. The U.S.-led military alliance in Kabul said it was looking into the reports.
Wagma Sapay, a member of parliament from Kunar, said the civilians killed were in one house while four senior Taliban leaders were slain as they were gathering next door in the village of Sharpool in the Chawkam area.
She said the civilians killed included five children and four women. Police confirmed the death toll as nine but did not provide other details.
Provincial Gov. Sayed Fazelullah Wahidi said the local government had not been informed about plans for the strike. He put the death toll at eight — four women and four children. The conflicting casualty numbers couldn't immediately be reconciled.
"This operation was by coalition and Afghan forces," he said. "We were not aware of it."
The killing of civilians at the hands of U.S. and other foreign forces has been one of the most contentious issues in the 11-year war.
Jamie Graybeal, a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force, said the alliance was aware of the allegations of civilian casualties in Kunar but could not confirm any details.
"We take these allegations very seriously and we are in the process of determining the circumstances surrounding this incident," he said.
The reported attack came as President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union speech that he will bring home within a year about half of the 66,000 U.S. troops now in Afghanistan in a step toward withdrawing all foreign combat forces by the end of 2014.
The U.N. body monitoring the rights of children said last week that attacks by U.S. military forces in Afghanistan, including airstrikes, have reportedly killed hundreds of children over the last four years.
The Geneva-based Committee on the Rights of the Child said the casualties were "due notably to reported lack of precautionary measures and indiscriminate use of force."
ISAF, which is composed mainly of American forces, dismissed that claim, saying that it takes special care to avoid civilian casualties.