Kabul: Foreign forces in Afghanistan issued an apology on Monday for the deaths of nine Afghan civilians in Helmand province after President Hamid Karzai criticised an air strike which he said killed 14.
A statement from Major General John Toolan, International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) commander for the southwest region of Afghanistan, said: "On behalf of the coalition, I offer our heartfelt apologies to the families and friends of those killed."
The apology came after Karzai`s office issued what it said was a "last warning" to US and NATO-led troops over civilian casualties following Saturday`s incident.
Provincial officials also said that 14 people were killed in the strike, among them five girls, seven boys and two women.
Civilian deaths in international military operations are a highly sensitive topic in Afghanistan, frequently sparking demonstrations and public condemnations from Karzai.
The statement from Toolan said: "On behalf of the coalition, the commander of the International Security Assistance Force General (David) Petraeus... I want to offer my sincere apologies for the nine civilians who were killed during the incident in Now Zad District, Helmand province, that occurred on 28 May.
He said that the incident had happened after a coalition patrol was attacked by insurgents, resulting in the death of a marine.
"Subsequently, the five insurgents occupied and continued to attack again from a compound and in the ensuing battle an airstrike was called to neutralise the threat," he added.
"Unfortunately, the compound the insurgents purposefully occupied was later discovered to house innocent civilians."
He said a full investigation was ongoing and that ISAF would "ensure that we make amends with the families in accordance with Afghan culture”.