KABUL (Reuters) - An air strike by NATO-led forces killed two children as they were watering fields in Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province late on Monday, an Afghan official and lawmaker said.
The deaths occurred weeks after tensions between Afghan President Hamid Karzai and his Western backers were inflamed by the killing of nine children who were collecting firewood in the same province.
Last year was the most lethal for non-combatants since the Taliban were ousted from power in 2001, with a 15 percent rise in civilian casualties to 2,777 according to a report by the United Nations last week. The report said insurgents were responsible for three quarters of the deaths.
Abdul Marjan, district chief of Chawki in Kunar where the two brothers, aged 10 and 15, where killed on Monday, said the boys had been working on irrigation channels before they were hit.
"They might have been mistaken for insurgents as they were carrying spades on their shoulders," Marjan told Reuters.
Shahzada Shahid, a lawmaker from Kunar, said the pair were students who had gone out to help work their father's fields.
Irrigation agreements between villagers in the area mean the family's land gets access to river water only in the evening.
A spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force,(ISAF) said an air strike in Chawki on Monday evening targeted two suspected insurgents, killing one and wounding another after they were seen planting a roadside bomb.
He added that ISAF were looking into media reports of civilian casualties.
NATO-led forces have significantly tightened rules governing air strikes and night raids in the past two years, leading to a drop in civilian casualties, but deaths are still relatively frequent and highly sensitive.
Karzai this month told General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO forces in Afghanistan, that his apology for the strike that killed nine children was "not enough," and civilian casualties by foreign troops were "no longer acceptable" to the Afghan government or people.
(Reporting by Rohullah Anwari, writing by Hamid Shalizi, editing by Emma Graham-Harrison)