( Reuters ) - At least seven children have been killed in a U.S.-led coalition air strike in a religious school in Afghanistan, the coalition said on Monday, amid rising anger over civilian deaths from foreign military operations.
Violence has surged in recent months in Afghanistan after the traditional winter lull, with foreign forces launching attacks against Taliban guerrilla strongholds in the south and east and the Taliban hitting back with a string of suicide bombings.
In a separate incident, three coalition soldiers and their Afghan interpreter were killed on Sunday when a roadside bomb hit their vehicle near the southern city of Kandahar.
The air strike, late on Sunday in southeast Paktika province near the Pakistan border, was part of an operation aimed at a compound containing a mosque and a madrassa thought to have been used as a safehouse by al Qaeda fighters, the coalition said.
Al Qaeda is fighting alongside the Taliban to overthrow Afghanistan's Western-backed government and drive out foreign troops. U.S.-led forces removed the Taliban from power in 2001 for refusing to hand over al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.
The coalition statement said early reports showed seven children at the madrassa had been killed in the air strike and several militants were also killed.
The mosque sustained minor damage, it added.
More than 120 civilians have been killed by foreign troops in Afghanistan in recent months, according to the Afghan government and residents.
The deaths have sparked street protests calling for President Hamid Karzai's resignation and the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Afghanistan. U.S. forces make up the bulk of the more than 50,000 foreign troops operating in the country.