KABUL (Reuters) -- The United Nations said today that eight Afghan students died in a controversial nighttime raid last weekend, which NATO-led forces say only targeted insurgents but Afghan officials say killed 10 civilians.
Kai Eide, UN special representative in Afghanistan, said in a statement that preliminary investigations into the incident showed there were militants in the area at the time of the attack, but eight of the dead were teenaged civilians enrolled in local schools.
The deaths, in eastern Kunar Province, have sparked demonstrations about civilian casualties of the eight year war by hundreds of people in at least three Afghan cities.
The operation was a joint raid by Afghan and international military forces, Eide added, and condemned the practice of nighttime attacks on suspected insurgent shelters.
"The United Nations remains concerned about nighttime raids given that they often result in lethal outcomes for civilians, the dangerous confusion that frequently arises when a family compound is invaded, and the frustration of local authorities when operations are not coordinated with them," Eide said.
The incident has inflamed long-standing tensions between the Afghan government and Western forces.
President Hamid Karzai rapidly condemned the attack and ordered an investigation, but his high-profile denunciation comes at a time when there are signs that foreign forces' efforts to reduce civilian deaths may finally be having some effect.
Civilian casualties in previous attacks by NATO-led forces have stoked public anger towards both Westerners and the Afghan government they are backing.