At least five civilians, including three children, have been killed in a NATO air attack in eastern Afghanistan, according to government officials.

The civilians, aged between 12 and 20, were killed overnight on Friday while they were out hunting birds in the area of Saracha, a few miles from Jalalabad city, the capital of eastern Nangarhar province, Hazrat Hussain Mashreqiwal, provincial police spokesman, told the AFP news agency.

However, the US-led coalition said that it targeted fighters and that its initial reports indicate no civilian casualties.

Lieutenant-Colonel Will Griffin, a spokesman for the coalition, told the Associated Press news agency that the attack near an airport used by NATO forces was a "precision coordinated strike".

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But Mashreqiwal said: "Last night around 11 pm, five civilians aged between 12 and 20 carrying air guns wanted to go hunting birds some eight kilometres from the centre of the city of Jalalabad.

"They were targeted and killed by a foreign forces air strike."

Their bodies were brought to the central hospital, he said.

Ahmad Zia Abdulzai, a Nangarhar spokesman, confirmed the incident.

Mohammad Atif Shinwari, spokesman for the Nangarhar education department, said: "Three of the civilians killed in the airstrike were school children, two were brothers."

Source of friction

Civilian casualties during NATO operations have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and US-led NATO troops, who are winding down operations as they prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

Last month, a NATO air raid killed at least 16 civilians, including women and children, in neighbouring Kunar province in eastern Afghanistan.

The attack hit a pickup vehicle and killed all on board, Afghan officials said. However, NATO denied that civilians died in the attack, saying the strike had killed fighters.

Tens of thousands of civilians have been killed in Afghanistan since the Taliban launched their insurgency in 2001 after being ousted in a US-led invasion.

As NATO troops wind down operations and Afghan security forces take charge of security responsibility countrywide, violence has been on the increase.

More than 1,000 civilians were killed and around 2,000 others were injured in the first half of 2013, according to a UN report, a 23 percent increase from the same period last year.

Source: AFP