NATO has said its forces accidentally shot dead two Afghan boys in the latest of a series of reports of civilian deaths at the hands of international troops.
The two boys were shot dead when they were mistaken for fighters during an operation in northwest Uruzgan on Thursday, US General Joseph Dunford, the commander of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), said in a statement on Saturday.
"I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed," Dunford said.
The shooting in the southern province could further strain the relationship between ISAF and Hamid Karzai, Afghan president, who has demanded US special forces leave another province over allegations of torture.
"The boys were killed when coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces," he said, adding that a team of Afghan and ISAF investigators visited the village on Saturday and met local leaders.
Speaking to the media, provincial officials said the Australian soldiers were fighting back against Taliban gunfire when the two boys were shot on Thursday morning.
"The children were killed by Australian troops, it was a mistaken incident, not a deliberate one," Amir Mohammad Akhundzada, Uruzgan provincial governor, told the AFP news agency.
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The fighters, believed to be Taliban, were shooting at a helicopter carrying Australian forces, said Akhunzada.
The office of Hamid Karzai has issued a statement condemning the deaths of the two boys.
"Deeply grieved by the death of children, President Karzai expresses his heartfelt condolences to the mourning families of the victims."
The statement went on to say that the Kabul government has "repeatedly stressed that the war on terrorism can not succeed in Afghan villages and homes, but rather in its sanctuaries and safe havens outside our borders".
The latest civilian casualties by the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ISAF, comes less than a week after the government demanded US special forces leave Maidan Wardak province for furthering "instability and insecurity" in the restive province.
A statement issued by the national security council said "it became clear that armed individuals named as US special force stationed in Wardak province engage in harassing, annoying, torturing and even murdering innocent people".
The bulk of Australia's 1,550 troops are based in the southern province, and are focused on training and mentoring Afghan soldiers ahead of the withdrawal of NATO combat troops by the end of next year.