KANDAHAR  - A suicide bomber killed at least seven people and wounded eight Thursday in an attack at Kandahar international airport in war-torn southern Afghanistan, officials said.

Women and children were among the casualties and pools of blood and body parts were scattered around the burned-out wreckage of six vehicles at the scene of the attack, an AFP reporter said.

Witnesses said two of the vehicles belonged to NATO special forces, but a spokesman for the International Security Assistance Force said there were no ISAF casualties and he had no information that military vehicles were involved.

"Seven civilians, including two children, were killed in today's suicide attack. Eight civilians including two children and one woman, have been injured in the blast," provincial spokesman, Zalmay Ayobi, told AFP. Witnesses said the bomber tried to ram his Toyota sedan into ISAF cars as they were leaving the first entry point to the vast airport complex, which has both military and civilian sections.

The Taliban, the militia leading a 10-year insurgency against the Afghan government and tens of thousands of NATO troops, claimed responsibility.

Spokesman Qari Yousuf Ahmadi told AFP the target was "the bullet-proof vehicles of foreign forces".

At the same time, hundreds of people took to the streets in a town in northeastern Afghanistan in protest over a night raid by Afghan and NATO forces that allegedly killed six civilians.

A woman and a child were among the dead in the air and ground raid on Dewa Gul Vally, a Taliban stronghold in the Chawki district of Kunar province, on Monday night, provincial governor Fazlullah Wahidi told AFP.

"The raid was not coordinated with us. Those killed were civilians, among them a woman and a child," Wahidi said. "Now the people are demanding justice." Angry protesters in Chawki chanted slogans condemning both NATO forces and the Afghan government as they marched through the centre of the district, he said.

An ISAF spokesman confirmed there was an operation in the area on Monday and said it was investigating reports of civilian casualties.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai had sent a delegation to investigate the incident, his office said in a statement, adding that witnesses said six civilians were killed.

US-led coalition troops and Afghan special forces launch regular kill-and-capture raids under cover of darkness against suspected Taliban insurgents. But repeated allegations of civilian deaths have provoked criticism from Karzai and anger among the Afghan public.

ISAF defends the operations as the safest way of targeting insurgent leaders and insists they will continue, but with the increasing involvement of Afghan special forces.

It says that in 85 percent of night raids no shot is fired and they cause less than one percent of civilian casualties.

The latest deaths come as both sides have made moves towards peace talks, with the Taliban, toppled in late 2001 in a US-led invasion, announcing plans to open a political office in Qatar.

But the Islamic hardliners said this did not mean they had surrendered in the war against coalition forces, only that they would use their political wing alongside their military to achieve their aims.

The United Nations said the number of civilians killed in violence in Afghanistan rose by 15 percent in the first six months of last year to 1,462, with insurgents blamed for 80 percent of the killings.