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9 Afghan children killed by helicopter gunship

Two NATO helicopter gunships killed nine unarmed boys in Afghanistan on 1 March.  The boys, aged between 9 and 15, were collecting firewood near their home in the north-eastern province of Kunar.

Some of them were dismembered in the attack.

The sole survivor, an 11-year-old boy named Hemad, was injured by shrapnel.  He told the New York Times:

"The helicopters hovered over us, scanned us and we saw a green flash from the helicopters. Then they flew back high up, and in a second round they hovered over us and started shooting … [They] shot the boys one after another."

The boys were sent by their parents to collect wood because it was 'very cold'.  An uncle of one of the dead boys explained they would not have been sent up the mountain given the "known threats from both insurgents and Americans,” had they not been so poor and desperate.

His nephew, 14 year-old Khalid, was the only breadwinner supporting his mother and 13 sisters since his father died 4 years ago.

The next day, NATO commander General David Petraeus apologised for the attack:

"We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions."

US Army General David PetraeusPetraeus (left) announced an investigation into the attack.

This was at least the third instance in two weeks in which the US-led NATO force was accused of killing a large number of civilians in air strikes.

Says the New York Times, "news of the attack enraged Afghans and led to an anti-American demonstration" of more than 200 people in the boys' village the next day.

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