KABUL, Afghanistan – A NATO airstrike targeting insurgents fighting from a residential compound in the volatile southwestern province of Helmand inadvertently killed at least nine civilians, NATO officials said today, although the actual tally of civilian deaths remains unclear due to varying official accounts.
Southwest regional commander U.S. Marine Maj. Gen. John Toolan issued an official apology early today on behalf of top coalition commanders Gen. David Petraeus and Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez for the killing of civilians in Saturday’s NATO attack.
“I want to offer my sincere apologies for the nine civilians who were killed during the incident in Nawzad district, Helmand province,” Toolan said.
Toolan said the airstrike was launched after an insurgent attack on a coalition patrol in the district killed a Marine. Five insurgents occupied a compound and continued to attack coalition troops, who called in an airstrike “to neutralize the threat,” Toolan said.
“Unfortunately, the compound the insurgents purposefully occupied was later discovered to house innocent civilians,” Toolan said. “A full investigation is ongoing to determine the exact details of this incident. While I know there is no price on human life, we will ensure that we make amends with the families in accordance with Afghan culture.”
On Sunday, Dawood Ahmadi, a spokesman for the provincial government, said NATO hit two civilian houses and counted a higher number of civilian deaths – five girls, seven boys and two women. Six other civilians were injured, Ahmadi said.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemned the attacks in a statement on Sunday that revised Ahmadi’s casualty figure, saying that 10 children, two women and two men were killed.
“We have told the Americans and NATO forces several times that uncoordinated operations will result in the killing of innocent civilians and that such operations are inhumane, but still no one has listened,” Karzai said Sunday, adding that his condemnation would be “the last warning to NATO forces, American forces, and American officials.”