Ten Afghan civilians killed
Kabul - Ten civilians, mostly school children, have been killed during Western military operations in eastern Afghanistan, President Hamid Karzai's office said on Monday, citing "initial reports."
Karzai condemned the killings, which his statement said took place in Kunar province, which borders Pakistan, on Saturday.
"Initial reports indicate that in a series of operations by international forces in Kunar province... 10 civilians, eight of them school students, have been killed," the statement said.
"President Karzai strongly condemns the operation which caused civilian deaths and has appointed a delegation to investigate the incident," it said.
A senior official in the Afghan government, speaking on condition anonymity, said the death toll could change because investigations are ongoing.
When contacted on Sunday, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had no information on any operations or casualties in Kunar.
A senior Western military official told AFP that US special forces have been conducting operations against militants in the border regions of Kunar.
"They have been killing a lot of Taliban and capturing a lot of Taliban," he said, speaking on condition that he not be named.
The operations were conducted independently of NATO and coalition forces, which number more than 110 000 fighting to eradicate the Taliban, he said.
Politicians walked out
Politicians representing Kunar walked out of an important parliamentary session debating appointments to Karzai's new cabinet to protest against the civilian casualties, television showed.
The border regions of Kunar have long been volatile as Taliban fighters are said to cross the porous border from Pakistan to fight Western troops and Afghan government forces.
The Afghan Taliban is led by Mullah Mohammed Omar, believed to be based in Pakistan, who has promised a surge of his own to match the influx of almost 40 000 US and NATO troops pledged for the coming year.
The reinforcements are part of a new strategy as Western military leaders and politicians try to turn around an eight-year war that is seen increasingly going the Taliban's way.
"In 33 out of 34 provinces, the Taliban has a shadow government," a Western military intelligence official told reporters on Sunday.
Omar "has a government-in-waiting, with ministers chosen" for the day the government falls, he added.
Taliban is strong
"Time is running out. Taliban influence is expanding," the military official warned. "Where the (Afghan) government is weak, the enemy is strong," able to exploit the corruption and unpopularity of Karzai's administration, he said.
US General Stanely McChrystal, who commands the US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, has been at pains to minimise civilian casualties in the fighting, although many are killed in Taliban suicide and roadside bomb attacks.
Civilian deaths cause widespread anger among Afghans exhausted by decades of war and are readily exploited in Taliban propaganda.
Most recently, Karzai condemned the killing of six civilians during a NATO raid in early December as US Defence Secretary Robert Gates vowed US troop reinforcements would keep civilian deaths to a minimum.
Karzai's office said six civilians, including a woman, died when troops from ISAF conducted an operation in Laghman province on the night of December 2.
Earlier on Monday, officials said Taliban-linked militants stormed a police post in north western Afghanistan, sparking a gunfight that killed two police and left three others missing.
The militants attacked the post late on Sunday in Badghis province, killing two officers, provincial police chief Sayed Ahmad Sameh told AFP.
Three other policemen were missing, he added.