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NATO Troops Shoot Afghan In Area That Saw Unrest

KABUL (Reuters) -- NATO-led troops shot dead an Afghan civilian whose vehicle approached a convoy today in an area that has seen violent civil unrest over the past week in Afghanistan, the alliance said.

It was at least the third time in a week that either NATO or Afghan troops had shot civilians in Helmand Province's Garmsir district, raising the political temperature in an area mostly seized by U.S. Marines from the Taliban last year.

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said troops had opened fire after a large vehicle with no headlights approached a convoy at high speed early today.

The troops fired three to five rounds into the vehicle's grill, ISAF said in a statement. One Afghan civilian man in the vehicle was hit in the chest and died hours later at a U.S. base where he was brought to treat his wounds.

The statement did not identify the nationality of the troops involved in the incident. The NATO-led ISAF force is manned in the area mainly by U.S. Marines.

On January 13 U.S. and Afghan troops fired on a crowd outside a U.S. base, wounding five people, the military has said.

The previous day, Afghan authorities say Afghan troops fired on a crowd of demonstrators trying to storm a government building, killing eight and wounding 13. U.S. troops say they also fired during that demonstration, but only at a sniper.

The civil unrest has underscored the ongoing volatility of the Lower Helmand River valley, part of Afghanistan's opium-growing heartland, which U.S. Marines seized from the Taliban last year in the 8-year-old war's biggest assault.

U.S. and Afghan officials blame the Taliban for stirring up the unrest by spreading false rumors that American troops desecrated a holy book during a raid.

The 10,000 Marines in Helmand mostly arrived as part of a first "surge" of extra forces ordered by U.S. President Barack Obama at the beginning of last year. The Marine contingent is set to double in coming months under a second surge of another 30,000 troops Obama ordered in December.

The main goal of the extra troops is to secure population centers under a new counterinsurgency strategy, a mission that U.S. commanders say is set back by civilian casualties.