Foreign Affairs Minister Kevin Rudd says it is unacceptable that nine young Afghan boys were gunned down by US helicopters while collecting firewood.
NATO commander General David Petraeus has apologised for the incident and ordered an investigation into the deadly strike by US helicopters.
Local officials say the strike killed nine boys under the age of 12 who were gathering firewood in Afghanistan’s north-eastern region.
One survivor of the attack, an 11-year-old boy, is reported as saying the helicopters hovered over the boys, rose up, fired rockets and then shot the boys one after the other using their canons.
Speaking from the Afghan capital Kabul, Mr Rudd told Lateline that all deaths in Afghanistan are tragic.
“Nine young boys dying is not acceptable,” he said.
“As for the detail of what actually transpired, it’s important to await the investigation. The account from the little boy is of course horrific, but let’s establish all the facts.”
Mr Rudd says that the number of civilian deaths as a result of Coalition operations in Afghanistan has been decreasing.
“These deaths are unacceptable, however,” he said.
“I also note that the number of civilian deaths arising from Taliban operations is increasing.”
Mr Rudd says he will be raising the incident with General Petraeus while he is in Kabul.
“I note that General Petraeus has ordered an investigation. I note also that NATO has indicated that if necessary, when these sorts of incidents occur, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken,” he said.
“Therefore we await to see what the investigation reveals, but I’ll be of course raising this with General Petraeus and others when I’m here in Kabul where I’ve just arrived.”
A NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement initially said the incident happened after an insurgent rocket attack on a military base prompted coalition forces to return fire, including with air power.
But General Petraeus later admitted the strike was a terrible mistake against children.
General Petraeus has ordered all helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the need to keep civilian casualties “to the absolute minimum” and troops could face disciplinary action over the strike, the ISAF statement added.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai had earlier criticised foreign forces on civilian deaths, saying they would face “huge problems” if the “daily killing of innocent civilians” did not stop.
He also stressed that “Afghan villages are not the bases and havens of terrorism.”
Civilian casualties in foreign military operations against the Taliban have been high on Afghanistan’s political agenda recently, highlighting tensions between Mr Karzai and the West.
The Afghan army and police are due to take control of security in their own country from 2014.
Human rights watchdog the Afghanistan Rights Monitor said last month that 2010 was the deadliest year for Afghan civilians since the US-led invasion in 2001 ousted the Taliban.
At least 2,421 civilians were killed last year, it said, blaming the Taliban and other insurgents for more than 60 per cent of the dead.
At least 217 died in air strikes by international forces, it added.