NATO admits 5 Afghan civilians killed in air strike

The strike was actually carried out to help fend off Taliban attack in south.

Updated: Aug 16, 2010, 09:19 AM IST

Kabul: NATO has acknowledged that five Afghan civilians appeared to have been killed by one of its air strikes, carried out to help fend off a Taliban attack in the south of the country.

The incident occurred on Thursday in Lashkar Gah district of Helmand province when members of the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) came under fire from insurgents and called in aircraft "to provide supporting fire”, ISAF said in a statement.

"Later that day, four wounded and three dead Afghan civilians were brought to a nearby check point, where two of the wounded died. The remaining two wounded were immediately evacuated to an ISAF medical facility."

While investigations are ongoing, "there is evidence civilians were in the compound targeted by coalition forces during the operation”.

"We regret this tragic loss of life. Our first objective is to protect the people of Afghanistan and in this case we may have failed," the statement said.

Last year, then-head of US and international forces in Afghanistan, General Stanley McChrystal, imposed restrictions on the use of air strikes, leading to a sharp drop in such unintended killings in the first half of this year, according to a recent United Nations report.

The new head of international forces, General David Petraeus, also issued a directive at the beginning of the month on avoiding civilian casualties.

However, a UN report issued on August 10 said the number of civilian casualties in the war had risen by a third in the first six months of this year, reaching 1,271 deaths, with insurgents killing seven times more civilians than NATO-led troops.