Nato officials have expressed their regret after civilians were killed in an airstrike in Afghanistan which was targeting known insurgents.
Afghan government officials said that Nato planes had killed eight women and girls from a remote part of Laghman province’s Alingar district, a claim initially rejected by the US-led coalition.
However, the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) – as the coalition is known – later acknowledged that civilians had been killed and expressed its regret over the airstrike. It insisted known insurgents had been the target.
“ISAF takes full responsibility for this tragedy,” a statement said.
Villagers drove the bodies to the Laghman provincial capital, claiming they were killed by Nato aircraft while they were out gathering firewood before dawn.
“They were shouting ’Death to America!’ They were condemning the attack,” said Laghman provincial government spokesman Sarhadi Zewak.
Four bodies, covered in blankets, were seen by an Associated Press journalist at the governor’s office in the provincial capital, Mehterlam.
Seven injured females were also taken to area hospitals for treatment, some of them as young as 10, according to provincial health director Latif Qayumi.
Nato forces said that the strike killed a large number of insurgents – as many as 45 – but may have also killed civilians.
There may have been five to eight Afghan civilians killed in the strike, said Captain Dan Einert, a spokesman for international forces in Afghanistan. He said they were still investigating the report.
“Protecting Afghan lives is the cornerstone of our mission and it saddens us when we learn that our action might have unintentionally harmed civilians,” said Jamie Graybeal, another spokesman for the international military in Afghanistan.
Afghan president Hamid Karzai “strongly condemns the airstrike by Nato forces which resulted in the deaths of eight women,” a statement from his office said. It said the Afghan government was also investigating.