KABUL // The Afghan president Hamid Karzai has ordered an investigation into a US-led coalition air strike that local officials said killed 15 civilians. The American military has insisted that it killed only armed Taliban after coalition ground troops called for air support from attack helicopters after the militants attacked an outpost in the northeastern province of Nuristan on Friday.
In a statement released yesterday, the US military said: "The helicopter crews co-ordinated with ground forces to positively identify the militants' vehicles. The attack helicopters then destroyed the two vehicles, killing more than a dozen militants." But the governor of Nuristan said 15 civilians were killed and seven wounded in the attack in the Waigal district of Nuristan and none of the victims were militants.
President Karzai ordered the defence and interior ministries and a body that oversees local government to investigate, a statement from the presidential palace said today. "President Hamid Karzai has repeatedly emphasised the [need for] co-ordination of military operations and has been deeply saddened since learning about this incident," the statement said. Both the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) and US-led coalition forces say they take the utmost care to avoid killing civilians and ISAF tightened procedures for launching air strikes a year ago, which has had some effect.
ISAF accuses the Taliban of launching attacks from built-up areas in order to deliberately court civilian deaths. But with the US Pentagon warning last week that the Taliban are likely to intensify the scope and pace of their attacks, more civilians are certain to be caught in the crossfire. *Reuters