South Asia News
Governor: NATO airstrike kills 27 Afghan civilians (2nd Lead)
Feb 22, 2010, 7:56 GMT
Kabul - A NATO airstrike in Afghanistan killed 27 civilians, including women and children, a provincial governor said Monday.
The incident took place on Sunday in Dai Kundi province when three vehicles carrying the civilians were targeted from the air, Sultan Ali Uruzgani told the German Press Agency dpa.
'In this attack, 27 people were killed,' he said, adding that four women and two children were among those killed. Ten others were injured.
The civilians were coming from the Kejran district of Dai Kundi, and the attack occurred in Zerma, a village near the border with the neighboring province of Uruzgan, he said. The vehicles were en route to the southern province of Kandahar.
The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said its forces used airborne weapons to target a group of suspected insurgents 'believed to be en route to attack a joint Afghan-ISAF unit,' resulting in 'a number of individuals killed and wounded.'
'After the joint ground force arrived at the scene and found women and children, they transported the wounded to medical treatment facilities,' ISAF said in a statement.
A joint investigation was underway, it said.
Zamarai Bashary, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, confirmed the incident, but said that according to his information 21 civilians were killed and 14 others were injured.
Due to the remoteness of the area, it was difficult to verify the contradictory reports independently.
The incident happened a day after President Hamid Karzai appealed to NATO troops to avoid civilian casualties.
'We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives,' US General Stanley McChrystal, the NATO commander in Afghanistan, said in the statement on Monday.
'I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission. We will re-double our efforts to regain that trust,' he said.
The statement also said that McChrystal apologized to President Karzai on Sunday night.
Civilian casualties have become the main source of tension between the Afghan government and international military forces. Afghan officials have repeatedly said that such deaths have sapped public support for more than 113,000 foreign troops and the central government.
McChrystal said protecting civilians was a key element of his war efforts against the Taliban, and he ordered NATO troops to restrict the use of airstrikes.