Petraeus apologises over Afghan civilian deaths

International forces admitted on Wednesday that they accidentally killed nine Afghan civilians in an air strike while their commander, General David Petraeus, said he was “deeply sorry for this tragedy”.

The statement came after President Hamid Karzai and local police said that nine young children were killed by the air strike on Tuesday as they collected firewood in Darah-Ye Pech district.

“We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologise to the members of the Afghan government, the people of Afghanistan and most importantly, the surviving family members of those killed by our actions,” Petraeus said in the statement.

“These deaths should have never happened and I will personally apologise to President Karzai when he returns from his trip to London this week.”

The International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement made no reference to the age of those who died in the attack.

Petraeus has now 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 attack, it added.

Civilian casualties during international military operations against insurgents are a key cause of friction between the Kabul government and its Western supporters.

Huge problems
Earlier Wednesday, Karzai had angrily criticised foreign forces, saying they would face “huge problems” if the “daily killing of innocent civilians” did not stop.

His condemnation came days after an official delegation appointed by him accused international forces of killing 65 civilians in a wave of recent, separate operations elsewhere in Kunar.

About 150 people demonstrated in the town of Asadabad, the capital of Kunar, on Wednesday, shouting anti-American slogans, witnesses said.

ISAF said the latest incident came as coalition forces retaliated after rockets were fired at a military base.

“ISAF accepts full responsibility for this tragedy and will continue to thoroughly investigate this incident to understand why this happened and try to prevent this from happening in the future,” it said.

“Should the facts of the investigation warrant it, appropriate action, including disciplinary action if necessary, will be taken.” — AFP

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