The New York Times reports
that the incident occurred in the Baraki Barak district south of Kabul, site of many attacks by Afghan resistance fighters attempting to control one of the main routes to and from the capital.
A spokesman for the provincial governor said that the firefight began around 4:30 p.m. on Saturday after Taliban gunmen opened fire on a NATO foot patrol.
"In order to push back the enemy ambush the coalition forces exchanged fire with the insurgents," the spokesman said. "Some villagers, including children, were caught in the fire exchange between the two sides-- as many as four children who had brought their livestock for grazing in the nearby farmland. According to locals the children were killed."
The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan, apologized for the incident and said that an investigation is underway.
"In addition to the insurgents killed during the operation, ISAF may be responsible for the unintended, yet nonetheless tragic, death of three Afghan civilians," an ISAF statement read.
The office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai released a statement
blasting "the killing of four innocent children."
"Despite repeated pledges by NATO to avoid civilian casualties, innocent lives, including children, are still being lost," the statement said.
Civilian casualties caused by US and NATO forces have often stoked tensions between the Afghan government and people and the foreign forces that have been conducting a war against Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters in the country since late 2001. President Karzai has been so frustrated with the killing innocent civilians by US-led forces that he once threatened
to join the Taliban.
While the Taliban is responsible for the majority of innocent Afghans killed during the 11-year war, US and NATO forces have killed thousands of men, women and children. There have been two major recent incidents-- last month, a NATO air strike killed eight women and girls
out gathering firewood in Alingar district, Laghman province. And last week, Digital Journal reported that another NATO air strike killed three children
in Nawa district, Helmand province.