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NATO says its troops shot dead two Afghan boys

KABUL (Reuters) - NATO said on Saturday its forces had accidentally shot dead two Afghan boys, in the latest of a series of reports of civilian deaths at the hands of international troops.

The shooting in the southern province of Uruzgan could further strain the relationship between the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who has demanded U.S. special forces leave another province over allegations of torture.

The two boys were shot dead when they were mistaken for insurgents during an operation in northwest Uruzgan on February 28, ISAF commander, U.S. General Joseph Dunford, said in a statement.

"I offer my personal apology and condolences to the family of the boys who were killed," Dunford said.

"The boys were killed when Coalition forces fired at what they thought were insurgent forces," he said, adding that a team of Afghan and ISAF investigators visited the village on Saturday and met local leaders.

The area, Lowar-e-Dowahom, was often patrolled by international troops, a spokesman for provincial governor Amir Mohammad Akhundzada said.

"They saw two young children who were apparently listening to a radio and they shot them - it is not yet clear why," the spokesman said.

Australian forces deployed in Uruzgan said earlier there had been an "operational incident" in the province's northwest but gave no details except that no soldiers were harmed.

On February 13 a NATO air strike requested by Afghan forces killed 10 people - including five children and four women - in the eastern province of Kunar, prompting Karzai to ban his troops from requesting foreign air strikes.

Two weeks later he halted all special forces operations in the central province of Wardak after a series of allegations involving U.S. special forces soldiers and Afghan men said to be working with them.

(Reporting by Mirwais Harooni, Ismail Sameem and Dylan Welch; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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