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Canadian soldiers likely killed a young girl in Afghanistan's Panjwayi district after a single warning shot fired at a motorcycle ricocheted off the ground and hit her instead.

An hour after the Tuesday incident, another set of Canadian soldiers on patrol in the Dand district, south of Kandahar city, opened fire on a vehicle carrying members of the Afghan national police.

The vehicle was travelling towards the soldiers with no headlights, according to the Canadian Forces. One police officer suffered serious gunshot injuries and two others suffered less serious injuries.

Canadian troops were conducting a foot patrol in the volatile Panjwayi region around 6:55 p.m. Tuesday when a motorcycle approached them at high speed, said military spokesman Major Mario Couture.

"The soldiers made every attempt to signal for the motorcycle not to approach any closer but the motorcycle continued to speed towards the patrol," he said.

The soldiers then fired a warning shot at the ground near the motorcycle. Instead of stopping, the driver turned and drove away.

"Moments after the warning shot was fired the patrol noticed a crowd of Afghans had gathered," Major Couture said. "Upon investigation it was discovered that an Afghan girl had been mortally injured by what appeared to be a gunshot wound."

Canadian soldiers attempted to conduct first aid on the child, but she died.

The Afghan National Police and the Canadian Forces National Investigation Service have launched an investigation into the incident. Major Couture said it has not been confirmed that the bullet fired by the Canadian soldier killed the girl, but "the balance of probabilities" suggests this is the case. Only one Canadian soldier opened fire on the motorcycle, firing just one shot, he said.

"This is an absolute tragedy that an innocent child was killed during one of those patrols," Major Couture said. "Again it just highlights the level of difficulty our soldiers are faced with, making split-second decisions on threats that are coming towards them, with the result that either they get killed or they can possibly kill someone else. That's extremely difficult."

In many cases where Canadians have injured or killed civilians, Canada has paid compensation to the victims' families. Major Couture would not comment on whether compensation would be paid to the girl's relatives.

In the second incident at around 7:50 p.m., soldiers in Dand district saw a vehicle approaching them, also at high speed. The vehicle had no headlights, Major Couture said, adding that the Canadians tried to get the car to stop by flashing their own lights. When that didn't work, they fired 10 rounds at the car. It was only later that the Canadian soldiers realized Afghan police officers were in the vehicle. The injured were taken to the hospital in Kandahar airfield.

After a quiet period that saw no such "escalation of force" incidents since March, there have now been three in less than a week.

Last Friday, Canadian soldiers opened fire on a van carrying four Afghan men. The van's driver had ignored or not seen various directives to stop, and soldiers eventually began shooting, killing one man and injuring three. The Canadian military suspects the men were testing how far the soldiers were willing to go to get a vehicle to stop, possibly as a form of planning for a subsequent suicide attack. No weapons or explosives were found in the van.

There has been a concerted effort by NATO troops in recent months to limit civilian casualties. Besides the obvious human cost, civilian casualties undermine support for Western troops, incite more people to support or join the insurgency and ultimately result in a more dangerous working environment for NATO soldiers.

General Stanley McCrystal, commander of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, recently issued new guidelines that greatly limit the kinds of situations in which U.S. soldiers can call in air strikes.

"We're not taking escalation of force lightly," Major Couture said. "If we're using our weapons it's because we have all the reasons to believe that danger is coming to us."

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