KABUL, Afghanistan – The American commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan telephoned Afghan President Hamid Karzai to apologize for an airstrike that killed at least one Afghan civilian and badly wounded two others, a coalition official said Friday.
Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford “expressed deep regret” for the civilian casualties, the official said, and promised a joint investigation with Afghan officials into circumstances surrounding the attack Thursday. Dunford made the call late Thursday after Karzai angrily denounced the United States, saying it has repeatedly shown disregard for the lives of Afghan civilians.
The airstrike, which Karzai said was from an American drone aircraft, came at a tense moment in U.S.-Afghan relations. Karzai warned earlier this week that if one more Afghan civilian was killed by American forces, he would never sign a proposed post-2014 security agreement.
Citing civilian casualties from so-called “night raids” on Afghan homes by U.S. special operations forces, Karzai has delayed signing the 10-year agreement even after agreeing to the proposed 24-page text. He indicated that he considered Thursday’s airstrike sufficient cause to scrap the accord altogether.
Karzai said a child was killed and two women badly wounded in the airstrike, and coalition officials did not dispute him.
Even with Dunford’s apology, the standoff over the security pact seemed to harden Friday, given the latest civilian casualties and Karzai’s repeated outbursts condemning the United States. The U.S. says the accord must be signed by the end of the year to give U.S. and NATO planners time to prepare for a military mission after foreign combat troops withdraw next year.
An official with the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, confirmed that the airstrike killed one civilian and wounded two others. The official declined to specify the type of aircraft, but said it fired two missiles at a midlevel Taliban commander riding a motorcycle in southern Helmand Province on Thursday.
The first missile missed and struck civilians near the road. A second missile killed the commander, who was identified as Mullah Nazar Gul. The ISAF official said the dead man had helped organize attacks on Afghan security forces.