Afghan border patrol kills seven civilians: police

KANDAHAR: An Afghan police patrol killed seven civilians after mistaking them for insurgents as they gathered firewood at dusk close to the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, police said Saturday.

Two of the seven, killed on Thursday evening in the Raig area between Shorabak and Spin Boldak districts, in southern Kandahar province, were younger than 18, said southern border police commander General Mohammad Raziq.

The six-member police team on patrol at the time had been detained, he said.

"We are questioning the border police members behind the shooting and the investigation will determine if it was intentional," he told AFP.

Civilian deaths in the fight against the Taliban in Afghanistan hit a record last year, with most killed by insurgents, according to the United Nations.

In a report last month the UN said 2,412 civilians were killed in 2009, compared with 2,118 the year before, with almost 70 percent the victims of Taliban attacks, including suicide bombings and roadside bombs.

The Taliban blames civilian deaths on the international and Afghan forces, and many Afghans say that civilian deaths would not occur if their country was not host to more than 100,000 foreign troops.

Kandahar is a significant target for Taliban rebels, who made it the country's capital during their 1996-2001 rule, until they were ousted by a US-led invasion following the Al-Qaeda attacks on the United States.

The city has been the scene of some major insurgent attacks, most notably in August when a truck bomb killed 40 people and injured at least 65.