Airstrike on al Qaeda kills 7 children in Afghan madrassa


Jun 18, 2007

(CNN) -- Seven children were killed in an airstrike by the U.S.-led coalition on a compound in eastern Afghanistan where al Qaeda fighters were believed to be gathered on Sunday, according to a U.S. military statement.

Several militants were also killed and two were detained, according to the military.

A U.S. military spokesman said there was no sign of children around the targeted building before the airstrike was ordered.

"We had surveillance on the compound all day and saw no indications there were children inside the building," said Army Maj. Chris Belcher, spokesman for the Coalition.

The military said other children who survived said that they were forced to stay inside the building throughout the day.

"Credible intelligence named the compound, which contained a mosque and a madrassa, as a suspected safehouse for al Qaeda fighters," the statement said. "Coalition forces confirmed the presence of nefarious activity occurring at the site before getting approval to conduct an airstrike on the location."

The military said that residents later confirmed that al Qaeda fighters had been present in the compound in Paktika province's Zarghun Shahr district all day Sunday.

"This is another example of al Qaeda using the protective status of a mosque, as well as innocent civilians, to shield themselves," Maj. Belcher said. "We are saddened by the innocent lives that were lost as a result of militants' cowardice."

The military said the mosque suffered only minor damage.

NATO soldier killed

Also on Monday, a soldier with NATO's International Security Assistance Force was killed and three were wounded in southern Afghanistan, NATO said.

Two Afghan police were reported killed as well, along with "a large number of enemy extremist fighters," NATO said in a news release.

"Fighting in the Chowreh district of Uruzgan province has been ongoing for three days."

ISAF spokesman Maj. John Thomas said allied troops are trying to "exert Afghan government control over a contested area."