The US commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan has apologised over the deaths of civilians in an airstrike on a tribal elder’s home that came during a night raid earlier this week.
General John Allen flew to Logar province to see local leaders and residents and offer condolences to the families, Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson said in a statement.
“I know that no apology can bring back the lives of the children or the people who perished in this tragedy and this accident, but I want you to know that you have my apology and we will do the right thing by the families,” Allen told the group of about two dozen Afghans gathered at a base at the provincial capital of Pul-i-Alam.
Coalition forces called in the airstrike on the man’s home after coming under fire from alleged Taliban commanders inside when they demanded their surrender. The Afghan and NATO forces had received a tip from residents that the commanders were meeting the elder for dinner.
The elder and 16 of his relatives, wives and children were killed, in addition to the alleged commanders.
“They were taken under fire. A hand grenade was thrown. Three of our people were wounded. We called for the people who were shooting to come out, and then the situation became more grave and innocent people were killed,” he told The Associated Press news agency after talking with the group gathered in Logar.
“Our weapons killed these people,” Allen said.
Villagers have said there was a wedding at the house the evening before and that it was full of families visiting for the celebration. The morning after the bombing, they piled the bodies of the dead into vans and drove them to the provincial capital to protest the airstrike.
An Afghan doctor who examined the bodies and interviewed two women injured in the airstrike said a group of Taliban fighters decided to spend the night in the house because they thought the wedding would provide them cover.
When NATO and Afghan troops started advancing on the house in the middle of the night, they called out for any civilians to come out, but the fighters did not allow them to leave, said Wali Wakil.
The deaths prompted Afghan President Hamid Karzai to cut short a visit to Beijing, where he signed a co-operation agreement with China.
“Attacks by NATO that cause life and property losses to civilians under no circumstances could be justified and are not acceptable,” Karzai said of the attack.
In April, Afghanistan signed a deal with the United States to take more control over controversial night raids.
In Logar, Allen met with the governor before taking his message to the assembled group of Baraki Barak residents and local officials. He invoked his own family, saying that he kept seeing the faces of his own children as he thought about the children who had been killed.