A NATO airstrike killed at least 27 civilians in southern Afghanistan, hundreds of miles away from the town of Marjah, where a large-scale offensive against Taliban militants is underway, the Wall Street Journal said on its website on Monday, quoting Afghan officials.
The airstrike reportedly hit a group of minibuses carrying women and children in a remote area near the border between the Uruzgan and Daykundi provinces.
The paper quoted the NATO's Afghanistan task force as saying its forces believed the minibuses were carrying insurgents.
NATO said the minibuses were attacked with "airborne weapons," without elaborating on what weapons were used.
The paper quoted the statement as saying troops then went to the scene "and found women and children," who were taken to a NATO facility for treatment.
President Hamid Karzai's Cabinet put the death toll at 33, but Uruzgan province's deputy governor Khudai Rahim said the latest reports from the scene indicated that 27 people, including at least five women and one child, had been killed. Earlier, Rahim said most of the dead were women and children, the paper said.
Afghan and NATO officials reportedly ordered an immediate investigation into the incident.
Civilians are frequent victims of NATO airstrikes in the war-torn south Central Asian country. Demonstrations against NATO's presence in Afghanistan are common.
The assault on Marjah, planned as a major test of a new NATO strategy in Afghanistan, is the largest offensive since the 2001 U.S.-led campaign, which toppled the Taliban from power.
Violence surged in the country in 2009, with Taliban militants staging regular attacks on provincial government officials, police and civilians and planting roadside devices as part of its fight against U.S. and NATO troops.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and a separate U.S.-led coalition, involved in Operation Enduring Freedom, have more than 110,000 troops in Afghanistan.
U.S. President Barack Obama said in December 2009 the U.S. would send an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan in the first part of 2010 to defeat the Taliban and establish law and order. Other NATO members have also pledged to send 7,000 additional troops to Afghanistan.
MOSCOW, February 22 (RIA Novosti)