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NATO airstrike kills 10 civilians, Afghan official says

By Masoud Popalzai and Ben Brumfield, CNN
February 14, 2013 -- Updated 0057 GMT (0857 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Five women and four children are among the 10 civilians killed, Kunar province governor says
  • The strike also killed three Taliban commanders who were targets, an official says
  • NATO says it is investigating
  • Civilian deaths have long been a point of contention between Kabul and Washington

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- A NATO airstrike in eastern Afghanistan late Tuesday killed 10 civilians, including children, an Afghan government official said.

The strike succeeded in killing three Taliban commanders who were targets of the attack, said Wasifullah Wasifi, a spokesman for the governor of Kunar province. But it also claimed civilian lives, he said.

The 10 civilians killed included five women and four children, Kunar province Gov. Fazelullah Wahidi said.

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said it was looking into the allegations.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai has been at loggerheads with Washington over civilian casualties for years, saying the killings show a lack of respect for his country's sovereignty.

In June, ISAF Commander Gen. John Allen traveled to the site of an airstrike that killed 18 people to personally apologize.

While militant attacks have caused by far the greatest number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan, many Afghans and coalition members have expressed concern about civilian deaths caused by air operations.

The number of civilian casualties dropped in 2012, compared with the previous year, according to the United Nations. Improvised explosive devices accounted for 33% of civilian deaths that year, according to a report by the U.S. Congressional Research Service.

The United States will draw down 34,000 troops currently stationed in Afghanistan in a year's time, President Barack Obama announced in his State of the Union address Tuesday night. The current number stands at 66,000.

By the end of 2014 -- the planned official end of the combat mission -- the White House is considering a range of troop levels for Afghanistan, from as many as 15,000 down to zero.

Afghanistan's defense department praised Obama's announcement, saying it was ready to take over responsibility for defending its own country.

Critics have expressed doubts about the Afghan military's readiness to maintain control over the Taliban.

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