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A US marines helicopters fires in Helmand Province
The attack was aimed at Taliban insurgentsImage: AP

Airstrike apology

May 30, 2011

International forces in Afghanistan have apologized for the deaths of 14 civilians in an airstrike in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday. Afghan President Hamid Karzai criticized the bombing.


A NATO commander apologized on Monday for the deaths of Afghan civilians killed by an airstrike in the southern province of Helmand on Saturday.

Afghan officials said the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had killed 12 children and two women. The raid was in response to a Taliban attack on US marines in the area.

"On behalf of the coalition, I offer our heartfelt apologies to the families and friends of those killed," Major General John Toolan, ISAF commander for south-western Afghanistan, said in a statement.

He stressed it was the coalition's "top priority" to avoid civilian casualties, adding that a full investigation was under way.

He said a marine had been killed by insurgents, and they had carried on firing from a compound. Troops decided to carry out an airstrike that same day.

"Unfortunately, the compound the insurgents purposefully occupied was later discovered to house innocent civilians," he said.

Criticism from Karzai

The apology came after President Hamid Karzai's office issued what it called a "last warning" to US and NATO troops, following Saturday's incident, which it described as "a great mistake."

Hamid Karzai, Afghan President
Afghan President Hamid Karzai critized the raidImage: AP

Karzai said such operations amounted to the "murdering of Afghanistan's women and children."

Civilian casualties in international military operations are a highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan. Footage and pictures from Helmand showed turbaned men carrying the bodies of children in the aftermath of Saturday's incident.

A White House spokesman said Washington was taking Karzai's concerns "very seriously".

"We work very hard, our military in Afghanistan, to do everything we can to avoid civilian casualties," spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Sunday.

Probe into suicide attack

Meanwhile, Afghan officials said on Sunday an investigation was under way into a suicide attack on Saturday that killed two senior police commanders and two German soldiers. German General Markus Kneip, the top NATO officer in the northern region was injured in the blast.

A bomber detonated explosives inside a government building in Taleqan, the provincial capital of Takhar. He had apparently gained access to the building after introducing himself as a bodyguard for a senior Afghan official.

Author: Joanna Impey (AFP, dpa)
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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