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U.S. admits errors in Afghan airstrikes

WASHINGTON – Military investigators have concluded that some airstrikes that killed civilians during a battle in western Afghanistan last month were mistakes but are trying to determine whether the service members who called in the strikes could have known they were no longer in imminent danger when the bombs were dropped.

The investigation questioned the last two airstrikes conducted during the 8 1/2-hour firefight, according to a military official familiar with the probe. The bombs used in those strikes were dropped by an Air Force B-1 bomber at night, when it was more difficult to determine whether civilians were present.

The investigation, conducted by Brig. Gen. Raymond A. Thomas III, concluded that by the end of the fight the ground forces were no longer under immediate threat of being overrun and probably should have disengaged.

Another defense official confirmed the outlines of the findings and said the report also concluded that dropping a 2,000-pound bomb was overkill.

U.S. officials have apologized for the civilian deaths, but they continue to be a source of anger and frustration in Afghanistan. The U.S. believes 26 civilians were mistakenly killed. The Afghanistan government puts the total at 140.

The military official familiar with the report cautioned that the report was not complete. The findings and recommendations still must be endorsed by Gen. David H. Petraeus, the head of U.S. Central Command, and forwarded to the Pentagon.