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NATO's 'Deep Regret' Over Afghan Civilian Death

2/16/2012 4:55 AM ET

The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has expressed "deep regret" over a miscalculated aerial strike that killed eight Afghan youths a week ago.

ISAF Communication Director Brigadier-General Lewis Boone and British Air Commodore Mike Wigston clarified at a press conference in Kabul on Wednesday that the fatal mistake was committed by the coalition forces on February 8 in the north-eastern province of Kapisa.

Boone said a group of eight people was spotted during a joint security operation in search of weapons and ammunition.

An ISAF aircraft dropped two bombs on the group moving in a suspicious manner assuming that they pose "an imminent threat to our people (Afghan police and NATO forces)."

The group, carrying weapons, were "moving in open terrain in a tactical fashion," which prompted the ground commander to believe they were getting ready to attack, Boone told reporters.

Reports quoting local officials said seven of the victims were boys aged between six and 14 and one was a mentally retarded man around 18 to 20 years old, but an IASF statement described them as "Afghan youths."

While the exact circumstances of the tragic incident remain to be determined, ISAF is taking appropriate action to ascertain the facts, and prevent such incidents in future, the statement added.

ISAF Commander Gen. John R. Allen conveyed his sincere regret over the loss of lives to the victims' families and local community.

"My command's mission is to protect the civilian people of Afghanistan," and "I take very seriously the loss of every Afghan life," Gen. Allen said, and pledged that the coalition forces will "continue to do all we can to ensure the safety of the Afghan population."

The incident occurred a day after ISAF vowed that it will "continue to do everything possible to prevent civilian casualties in Afghanistan throughout 2012."

Afghan government had repeatedly raised concerns over the killing of civilians in pre-emptive raids by foreign forces, who target villagers' houses in the country's southern and eastern provinces in search of suspected insurgents and those who supply them with weapons.

The top commander of the NATO-led troops in Afghanistan had to apologize over the death of nine Afghan children in an attack by the alliance's fighter planes in the south-east in March last year.

However, ISAF did not apologize for a similar mistake their forces committed barely a year after, but confined their response in "regretting" the incident.

by RTT Staff Writer

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