David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. and NATO-led forces in Afghanistan, apologized Wednesday after international forces admitted that coalition troops accidentally killed nine civilians — including children — in a strike Tuesday.
Petraeus said he would personally apologize to Afghan President Hamid Karzai after Karzai returns from a trip to London this week, according to reports.
"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 Wednesday.
Some children were among the dead, a spokesman for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said, CNN reported.
However, Karzai and local police said that all nine of those killed by the air strike on Tuesday were children collecting firewood in Darah-Ye Pech district.
Preliminary findings of an investigation show that ISAF forces accidentally killed nine civilians in the Darah-Ye Pech district of Afghanistan's eastern Kunar province Tuesday, the statement said. The incident happened after insurgents fired rockets at a base used by U.S. and allied troops.
"These deaths should never have happened ... ." Petraeus said.
"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 the subsequent operations."
Should the facts of the investigation warrant it, Petraeus said, the military could take disciplinary action against some of the troops involved.
He has ordered all helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the need to keep civilian casualties "to the absolute minimum" and troops could face disciplinary action over the attack, Agence France-Presse reported, quoting the ISAF.
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," he said, according to DPA. 'Is this the way to fight terrorism and bring stability to Afghanistan?'
Earlier Wednesday, he said foreign forces would face "huge problems" if the "daily killing of innocent civilians" did not stop. Troops should focus on terrorist sanctuaries, he added.
— Freya Petersen