"Hamid Karzai considers attacking women and children against all accepted international norms and strongly condemns it," the statement said after the airstrike on Sunday in Kunar province.

The statement said that according to information from Kunar Provincial Governor Shujaul Mulk Jalala a vehicle "was targeted by a NATO airstrike that killed 16 civilians including women and children".

Earlier the governor had said that the dead also included militants. "Four armed insurgents belonging to al-Qaeda were also killed in the airstrike," he said.

Kunar Police chief Abdul Habib Sayedkhil had said that the air strike had killed at least 10 civilians, including four women and four children. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) denied that civilians had been killed, saying that 10 enemy forces had died in the airstrike.

"We can confirm Coalition Forces' conducted a precision strike yesterday... resulting in 10 enemy forces killed," ISAF said in a statement.

"At this time, we have no reports of any civilian casualties in regards to this incident," it said.

Civilian casualties in NATO operations have long been a source of friction between the Afghan government and US-led NATO troops, who are winding down operations as they prepare to withdraw by the end of next year.

In February, Karzai ordered a ban on NATO airstrikes in the country after an airstrike killed 10 civilians in Kunar. Kunar, which borders Pakistan, is a stronghold of the Taliban-led insurgency and is also known to have a strong presence of foreign fighters.

(Agencies)

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