NATO warplanes have killed at least 27 civilians in Afghanistan in an airstrike meant to target Taliban insurgents, the nation's Cabinet said Monday. It was the latest in a series of attacks by coalition forces that have gone awry in recent weeks.
The Cabinet called the airstrike, which occurred Sunday in Uruzgan province, "unjustifiable." The Council of Ministers said Monday that NATO planes appeared to have fired at a convoy of three vehicles, killing at least 27 people, including four women and a child, and wounded a dozen others.
The Cabinet urged NATO to "closely coordinate and exercise maximum care before conducting any military operation," in order to avoid further civilian casualties.
A NATO statement said that the airstrike targeted vehicles that were believed to be carrying suspected insurgents. The statement said that when ground forces reached the site of the attack, they found the dead civilians.
The injured were transported to medical facilities, NATO said. It did not say how many were killed.
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top NATO commander, apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the incident, NATO said.
"We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives," McChrystal said in the statement. "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. We will redouble our effort to regain that trust."
The attack on Sunday marked the third time such an attack has killed noncombatants since the start of a major offensive aimed at winning over the population. It was not related to the massive ongoing NATO offensive in the southern Taliban stronghold of Marjah, in neighboring Helmand province.
Afghanistan's Interior Ministry said earlier that NATO warplanes hit three minibuses carrying 42 people — all civilians — traveling on a major road near Uruzgan's border with central Day Kundi province.
As recently as a speech on Saturday, Karzai admonished NATO troops for not doing enough to protect civilian lives.
In recent months, NATO has tried to reduce civilian casualties by tightening rules of engagement after public outrage in Afghanistan over the number of civilian deaths.
A total of 2,412 Afghan civilians were killed last year, the highest number in any year of the eight-year war, according to a U.N. report. But deaths attributed to NATO troops dropped nearly 30 percent as a result of the new rules, it said.
From NPR and wire service reports.