PARIS: NATO has opened an investigation after three children were killed during a joint operation by French and Afghan forces in eastern Afghanistan, the French general staff said on Thursday.
Five seriously wounded young Afghans rode up in a car at the French forward base in Tagab, east of Kabul, on Tuesday while 1,000 troops from Task Force La Fayette were waging an offensive nearby, it said.
One of them was pronounced dead immediately and a second one died while receiving treatment at the base, said spokesman Christophe Prazuck of the general staff. A third child died en route to the French military hospital in Kabul, he added during a press briefing in Paris.
The children were suffering from multiple injuries from an explosion.
"We do not know the exact circumstances in which these young Afghans, aged between 10 and about 15, were injured or killed and the investigation concerns all military units that were engaged in the region," said Prazuck.
"We are trying to determine where and how they were wounded and if the coalition forces are responsible," he added. Backed by French and US helicopters, the French troops and an Afghan battalion were deployed east of Kabul on Tuesday when they were caught in "heavy engagement" with insurgents, said the spokesman.
The forces were on a mission to secure a main supply route in Kapisa province.
On Monday, a NATO air strike in the southern Helmand province targeting suspected militants mistakenly killed four civilians, including two women and a child.
A joint investigation with Afghan security forces had been launched into Monday's incident, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has announced.
Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue in the nearly nine-year conflict, often used by Afghan politicians and the Taliban to whip up public opposition to the 126,000 foreign troops currently based in Afghanistan.
The United Nations argues that the overwhelming majority of civilian deaths -- put last year at 2,412 -- are caused by Taliban assaults, usually through crude bombings and suicide attacks.