South Asia News
Petraeus apologizes for deaths of nine Afghan children (Roundup)
Mar 2, 2011, 14:26 GMT
Kabul - The top commander of NATO-led troops in Afghanistan US General David Petraeus apologized on Wednesday for the deaths of nine children killed in an alliance airstrike in the south-east of the country.
'We are deeply sorry for this tragedy and apologize 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 a statement issued by his office.
'These deaths should have never happened and I will personally apologize to President (Hamid) Karzai,' the commander of International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said.
The ISAF forces were responding to a rocket attack, which had injured a contractor inside a nearby military base, on Tuesday when they targeted the children in Manogai district of Kunar province.
'Regrettably there appears to have been an error in the hand-off between identifying the location of the insurgents and the attack helicopters that carried out subsequent operations,' an ISAF statement said.
Hundreds of Afghan villagers took to the streets in Manogai district of Kunar province on Wednesday to protest the killing of the children.
The demonstrators chanted slogans against the United States and Afghan government as they marched to the centre of the district, local resident Mohammad Anwar Ghazi said.
The protesters called on US forces stationed in the region to leave, and demanded the government bring the perpetrators to justice, he said.
District police chief Gul Rahman said that the demonstration was peaceful, and that villagers simply wanted the killing of civilians to be stopped.
President Hamid Karzai 'strongly condemned the merciless killing' in a statement issued by his office on Wednesday.
'The children, who were martyred in this NATO aerial bombing, were collecting firewood to heat their homes in this cold winter,' the president said. 'Is this the way to fight terrorism and bring stability to Afghanistan?'
Civilian casualties have become a source of friction between Karzai and his Western allies. The president has repeatedly warned that such killings sap public support for his government, and for the presence of NATO-led troops in the country.
'This event is particularly distressing given the recent direction I gave to commanders to review our tactical directive that is intended to reduce civilian casualties to the absolute minimum,' Petraeus said.
Under the new military guidance, the ISAF troops have been instructed to avoid using airstrikes in populated areas.
Regardless of the outcome of an ongoing investigation, the US general said that he had ordered all ISAF leaders and members of ISAF attack helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the tactical directive.
The commander of more than 140,000 forces said that 'ISAF accepts full responsibility for this tragedy' and would conduct a thorough investigation to find the facts surrounding the incident.
'Should the facts of the investigation warrant it, appropriate action, include disciplinary action if necessary, will be taken,' Petraeus vowed.
Tuesday's incident came less than two weeks after 65 people were killed in NATO airstrikes in Ghaziabad district of the same province of Kunar.
NATO claimed all the casualties were armed insurgents, but a team dispatched to the area by Kabul reported that the dead included around 40 children and 10 women.
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