Kabul (AFP) Feb 15, 2010
Five Afghan civilians were accidentally killed and two others injured in an airstrike in southern Afghanistan, NATO said Monday, in an incident unrelated to a major US-led anti-Taliban operation.
The deaths were accidental, NATO's International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said, adding that the victims had been mistaken for insurgents planting improvised bombs.
"An ISAF airstrike against suspected insurgents accidentally killed five and wounded two civilians in the Zhari district of Kandahar province today," ISAF said in a statement.
"This event was not part of Operation Moshtarak," it added, referring to the massive assault in neighbouring Helmand province, where 15,000 US-led troops are aiming to eradicate militants from one of their last bastions in the south.
The incident comes a day after ISAF said 12 Afghan civilians were killed when two rockets missed their intended target in Helmand's Nad Ali district and slammed into a residential compound.
US General Stanley McChrystal, who commands 113,000 US and NATO troops in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban-led insurgency, apologised for that incident, which marked the first civilian casualties of Operation Mushtarak.
Monday's incident took place in Kandahar, the site of the Taliban's base from 1996 until its overthrow by US-led forces in late 2001.
ISAF said the airstrike had been ordered after a patrol of Afghan and ISAF soldiers observed people they thought were burying improvised explosive devices, or IEDs, the homemade bombs that have exacted a devastating toll on troops and civilians alike.
"A joint Afghan-ISAF patrol observed the individuals digging along a path, and believed that the individuals were emplacing an IED," the statement said.
"The joint patrol called for an airstrike. Following the strike, the Afghan-ISAF patrol approached the scene and determined the individuals had not been emplacing an IED.
"The joint patrol provided immediate first aid, and the wounded were flown to an ISAF medical facility for treatment," the statement said, adding an apology from Major General Michael Regner, ISAF Joint Command's deputy chief of staff for joint operations.
ISAF did not identify the nationality of the foreign soldiers involved in the incident.
Civilian casualties are an incendiary issue among Afghans, who often blame these on the presence of foreign soldiers despite the fact that most civilian casualties, according to the United Nations, are caused by Taliban attacks.
The Taliban deftly exploits civilian deaths and injuries to turn public opinion against foreign involvement in the war, now in its ninth year.
President Hamid Karzai on Sunday issued a warning to troops in the Helmand offensive to take all measures to avoid harming residents.
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