Agence France-Presses – 2008-08-18 21:03:51
(August 17, 20089) — NATO-led soldiers operating in southern Afghanistan “accidentally” killed four civilians and wounded three others in a rocket attack intended for insurgents, the alliance force said Sunday.
The Ministry of Defence in London later said British NATO troops were involved in the deaths, adding, “A full investigation will be carried out, and our sympathies are with the families of the killed and injured civilians.”
NATO’s International Security Assistance Force said the casualties from the incident on Saturday in the volatile province of Helmand included women and children but it did not give a breakdown.
“An ISAF unit on a mission to deny an insurgent safe haven has accidentally killed four civilians and wounded three others who were located inside a compound,” it said in a statement.
A patrol had picked up a radio message from the compound calling for insurgents to converge on an area in Sangin district to attack, it said.
“The patrol identified insurgents with weapons on the roof of the compound preparing to attack and in order to protect themselves launched three rockets, all of which hit the target.
“Unbeknown to the patrol, the civilians were inside the compound at the time.”
Two of the wounded, both children, were in a serious condition and being treated at an ISAF medical facility, the statement said.
“ISAF deeply regrets the tragedy of this incident when women and children were killed and injured as a result of an imminent insurgent attack from a position where they (militants) would have known women and children were present,” it said.
Helmand — where most soldiers in the 40-nation ISAF are from Britain — is a hotbed of Taliban insurgents, whom authorities say are being increasingly helped by Arab, Pakistani and other Muslim fighters.
There has been a series of incidents in the past weeks in which civilians have been killed in international military action against Taliban and other rebels, most often air strikes.
There have also been several cases in which civilians have been shot dead after ignoring warnings to stay away from military patrols, with soldiers fearing suicide attacks.
The mounting civilian casualties in military operations seven years after the United States sent troops to Afghanistan to topple the Taliban government angers Afghans and threatens to turn them against the soldiers.
More civilians have however been killed in insurgent attacks, most often bomb blasts, with such strikes said to be up 50 percent in parts of the country this year compared to last.
President Hamid Karzai this month urged his Western military allies to change their strategy in the “war on terror” and target extremist hideouts in neighbouring Pakistan rather than villages in Afghanistan.
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