Five Afghan civilians were shot and wounded by US and Afghan troops outside a military base in a restive area of the country that was the scene of a violent demonstration a day earlier, NATO said on Friday.

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The incident took place in the Garmser area of Helmand province on Wednesday, NATO’s International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement.

An ISAF spokesman said warning shots were fired as a crowd of up to 400 people gathered outside the gate of a military base, Combat Outpost Sher.

On Tuesday seven people were killed in Garmser during a demonstration sparked by rumours that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran in an operation the previous day, officials said earlier this week.

Referring to the Wednesday incident, Lieutenant Todd Breasseale told AFP: “The five Afghan civilians were wounded by bullets.”

“A combined ISAF and ANA (Afghan National Army) force was outside the outpost. In the crowd, five or six individuals were threatening ISAF and ANA soldiers,” he said.

“There were warning shots and the five or six individuals that were an imminent threat were targeted,” he added.

In its statement, ISAF said a crowd of between 200 and 400 people were told to keep their distance from the gate of the base.

“However, a number of civilians in the crowd disregarded instructions, resulting in forces firing warning shots.

“Deliberative escalation of force procedures were followed, but one individual continued to ignore instructions, striking members of the combined force with a stick.

“ISAF forces medically evacuated five wounded civilians to the nearby Forward Operating Base Dwyer treatment facility,” it said.

A government investigation team looking into the rumours that foreign soldiers had desecrated a Koran found they had been spread by Taliban operatives and were unfounded.

But during the demonstration Tuesday shooting broke out and seven people — six civilians and an Afghan intelligence official — were killed.

There was nothing in the ISAF statement Friday to indicate what had sparked the demonstration that led to the shootings outside the base gate on Wednesday.

The Taliban, who have a heavy presence in Helmand province, often whip up resentment against foreign forces deployed to fight them.

There are 113,000 international troops fighting the insurgents, with another 40,000 being deployed this year.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive issue among Afghans, and are often seized on by President Hamid Karzai to bolster support for his government.

A UN report released this week said civilian casualties rose 14 percent last year over 2008 but the overwhelming majority, 67 percent, were in Taliban attacks.

The Taliban rarely take responsibility for attacks causing high civilian casualties though their weapons of choice, remote-controlled bombs and suicide attacks, often kill indiscriminately.

ISAF also reported a separate incident in neighbouring Kandahar province, also an insurgent hotspot, in which two people were killed by soldiers who had been targeted by a remote-control bomb while on patrol.

“Immediately following the (bomb) strike, three motorcycles approached the patrol at a high rate of speed,” it said.

“As escalation of force procedures were followed, the patrol perceived an imminent threat and shot and killed two individuals and detained four others.”

NATO soldiers killed

Meanwhile, a bomb blast in Afghanistan’s restive south killed two NATO soldiers, hours after the death of an American trooper in a separate attack, a statement said Saturday.

“Two ISAF service members were killed in southern Afghanistan as a result of an IED strike yesterday,” said a statement from NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, referring to an improvised explosive device.