Kabul: A NATO air strike killed up to 27 Afghan civilians, including women and a child, sparking fresh anger from Kabul on Monday against the US-led forces pressing a major offensive to defeat the Taliban.
In a further blow to efforts to quell the eight-year insurgency, a suicide bomber killed an influential Afghan leader and 13 other people in a relatively peaceful eastern province on the Pakistan border on Monday, police said.
Top US commander Stanley McChrystal, who has made winning Afghan hearts and minds the focus of plans to end the increasingly costly war, was forced into another apology over civilian deaths after the third incident in a week.
"We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives," he said.
"I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission," McChrystal added in a statement.
A statement from President Hamid Karzai said McChrystal had visited him at his palace on Sunday to personally apologise for deaths.
The Afghan government has severely condemned Sunday’s NATO air strike in the Daykundi region.
A statement issued by the decision-making council of ministers, which is headed by President Hamid Karzai, described the missile hit as ‘unjustifiable’.
McChrystal and his superior, General David Petraeus, mapped out an offensive lasting 12-18 months that would strike beyond the current focus of operations in the southern province of Helmand.
About 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops are taking part in the offensive around Marjah, which has an estimated 80,000 inhabitants and was the largest town in southern Helmand province under Taliban control.
The Marjah offensive is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and is a major test of a new NATO strategy to focus on protecting civilians, rather than killing insurgents.
(With Agencies’ inputs)