NATO airstrike kills 27 civilians
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A NATO airstrike killed at least 27 Afghan civilians, officials said today, in the third coalition strike this month to kill noncombatants and draw a s h a r p r e b u k e f r o m Afghanistan's government about endangering civilians. In eastern Afghanistan, a suicide bomber killed 15 people today, including a tribal leader who played a key role in a failed attempt to capture al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden at Tora Bora in 2001, police said. The top NATO commander, U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, apologized to President Hamid Karzai for the Sunday airstrike, which occurred in the central Afghan province of Uruzgan. The Afghanistan Council of Ministers strongly condemned the airstrike, calling it "unjustifiable." It said reports indicated that NATO planes fired at a convoy of three vehicles, killing at least 27 people, including four women and a child, and injuring 12 others. ð The ministers urged NATO to "closely coordinate and exercise maximum care before conducting any military operation" to avoid further civilian casualties. NATO confirmed that its planes fired on what it believed was a group of insurgents on their way to attack NATO and Afghan forces, but later discovered that women and children were in the vehicles. A number of people were killed and the injured were transported to medical facilities, NATO said in a statement. Interior Ministry spokesman Zemeri Bashary said the airstrike hit three minibuses traveling on a major road near Uruzgan's border with Day Kundi province. There were 42 people in the vehicles, all civilians, he said. Bashary said local investigators had collected 21 bodies and two people were missing. He said he was checking with Cabinet officials to find out why there was a discrepancy in the toll. "We are extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives," Gen. McChrystal said in the NATO 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 was not related to the ongoing offensive around the Helmand province town of Marjah, where U.S. and Afghan forces have been battling Taliban insurgents since Feb. 13. At least 16 civilians have been killed so far during the offensive, NATO said, though human rights groups say the number is at least 19. They include nearly a dozen people killed when two NATO rockets struck a house on the outskirts of Marjah on the second day of the offensive.