UNITED States troops have been accused of dragging innocent Afghan civilians from their beds and shooting them at close range, in a night raid that left ten people dead.
Government investigators said eight schoolchildren had been killed and all but one of the victims was from the same family. Locals said some had been handcuffed before they were killed.
But western military sources insisted the dead were all part of an Afghan terrorist cell responsible for manufacturing improvised explosive devices (IEDs), which have claimed countless soldiers' and civilians' lives.
A Nato insider said: "This was a joint operation that was conducted against an IED cell that Afghan and US officials had been developing information against for some time." But he admitted "the facts about what actually went down are in dispute".
The allegations sparked angry protests in Kabul and Jalalabad yesterday, with children as young as ten chanting "death to America" and demanding foreign forces leave Afghanistan at once.
President Hamid Karzai sent investigators to Narang district, in Kunar province, after reports of the massacre surfaced on Monday. "The delegation concluded that a unit of international forces descended from a plane on Sunday night into Ghazi Khan village in Narang district and took ten people from three homes, eight of them school students in grades six, nine and ten, one of them a guest, the rest from the same family, and shot them dead," a statement on Mr Karzai's website said.
It added that conventional US forces in the area were "unaware of the incident". Assadullah Wafa, who led the investigation, said US troops flew to Kunar from Kabul, suggesting they were part of an elite Special Forces unit.
The local headmaster said the victims had been asleep in three rooms when the troops arrived.