KABUL — The Afghan government demanded Thursday to take into its custody foreigners wanted over the alleged killing of 10 civilians, sharply escalating a war of words with its powerful Western military backers.
The National Security Council (NSC) made the demand at talks chaired by President Hamid Karzai, who has been vocal in condemning international forces he believes are responsible for the incident last Saturday in the eastern flashpoint of Kunar.
"The meeting of the National Security Council demanded that those responsible for the deaths of those innocent youths must be handed over to the Afghan government," a statement from Karzai's office said.
Sensitivities about civilian casualties allegedly caused by NATO or US-led operations have driven a wedge between Karzai and his Western military allies who help keep his fragile government in power.
Karzai's ties with the West have already deteriorated over his controversial re-election after a ballot mired in fraud.
Around 113,000 NATO and US troops are fighting against a Taliban-led insurgency determined to topple Karzai's government and evict foreign forces, in an increasingly lethal war -- for civilians as well as combatants.
The row escalated Wednesday when Afghan government investigators accused Western forces of killing 10 civilians, eight of them teenagers, in a raid in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan.
NATO forces have disputed the results of the Afghan probe, saying the foreigners involved were non-military Americans on a sanctioned operation who fired in self-defence after being shot at by villagers.
But Afghanistan's powerful NSC accepted the findings of the investigation, saying foreigners entered a house and shot the 10 people, who were unarmed and posed no threat.
"International forces entered the area... and killed 10 youths, eight of them school students inside two rooms in a house, without encountering any armed resistance," the statement said.
The NSC condemned the "killing and emphasized the need for more coordination in military operations in a bid to avoid civilian deaths".
Around 1,500 people took to the streets Thursday for the latest in a string of protests over the alleged killings, using sticks to beat an effigy of US President Barack Obama and shouting "death to Obama", witnesses said.
In Asadabad, capital of Kunar, hundreds of students led the march chanting "death to America," "death to Britain and those who killed the students", witnesses said.
"We want the perpetrators brought to justice. The coalition forces must stop unilateral operations," said organiser Abdul Wahab.
Afghan authorities said they were also investigating reports of further civilian deaths in a NATO air strike.
The probe was launched into reports that nine civilians were killed in a NATO air strike near the town of Lashkar Gah in the troubled southern province of Helmand on Wednesday.
Daud Ahmadi, a spokesman for Helmand governor Gulab Mangal, said civilians had been killed in the Lashkar Gah bombing, but he had no figures or other details.
"We know civilians have been killed but we don't know how many. The governor has sent a delegation to the area to provide some cash support to the victims' families and investigate the incident," Ahmadi said.
Mohammad Alam, who said he had taken a wounded man to the city's hospital, said villagers had gathered to discuss water distribution when the air strike took place late Wednesday.
"All of a sudden the area was bombed, eight people were killed on the spot, another was wounded whom I brought to hospital, he died later," he said.
The war of words over civilian casualties came as the Taliban claimed responsibility for a suicide attack on a US base that killed eight US civilians, and after a bomb attack killed five Canadians, including a reporter.
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