American soldiers shot and killed 14 security guards after an encounter in eastern Afghanistan, and the Afghan president said Monday he feared the deaths would only discredit his own government in the eyes of its people.
The U.S. coalition said its troops shot at three vehicles carrying armed men in the eastern Khost province Sunday only after its occupants opened fire on their forces.
"There were secondary explosions in the vehicles, and 14 armed men were killed. Numerous ammunition belts and small-arms weapons were recovered from the vehicles," a statement from the U.S. military said Monday.
The military said it has launched a joint investigation with Afghan authorities.
President Hamid Karzai, in a statement issued Monday, said those killed were private security guards working for a road construction company.
"Carrying out such attacks will only expand the gap between the people and the government of Afghanistan, as well as between Afghanistan and its international allies," Karzai said.
The U.S. has been blamed in a number of civilian deaths that the Afghan government complains undermine Karzai's standing and turn ordinary Afghans against American and NATO troops.
Last week, the U.S. said a joint U.S.-Afghan investigation found that 37 civilians and 26 militants were killed during a battle between U.S. troops and Taliban militants in the village of Wech Baghtu in the southern Kandahar province. The U.S. has said the militants forced villagers to remain during the battle.
Karzai has long pleaded with the U.S. and NATO to prevent civilian casualties. Last week he appealed to U.S. President-elect Barack Obama to ensure that Afghan civilians are not killed in coalition operations.
According to an AP count of civilian deaths this year, U.S. or NATO forces have killed at least 275 civilians, while 590 have died from militant-caused violence like suicide bombs.
Meanwhile, a roadside blast hit a vehicle in western Herat province Monday, killing four people, including a local intelligence chief, a doctor and a prosecutor, said Noor Khan Nekzad, a police spokesman for the western region.
The four victims were on their way to investigate a criminal case when the blast ripped through their vehicle in Adraskan district, Nekzad said.