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NATO commander apologies for death of 9 Afghan boys

March 3, 2011 12:00:00 AM PST
On Wednesday, NATO forces acknowledged accidentally killing nine Afghan boys, ages 12 and under, on Tuesday in the Pech valley area of Kunar province.

NATO apologized for the boys' deaths on Wednesday. Gen. David Petraeus, top commander of coalition forces in Afghanistan, said disciplinary action, if warranted, would be taken.

On Thursday, Lt. Gen. David Rodriguez, who directs day-to-day operations of coalition forces across Afghanistan, issued a video statement of apology.

In the video, Rodriguez said that that troops at the base were responding to a rocket attack and dispatched attack helicopters to the location they were told the rockets came from.

"The helicopters identified what they thought were insurgents, killing nine," Rodriguez said. "We had made a terrible mistake."

A short time later, the coalition learned the nine were not insurgents, but boys who had been cutting wood, he said. Rodriguez said the coalition has been working to prevent civilian casualties, but "we acknowledge we have to do better."

Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai and President Barack Obama spoke over a secure video conference link on Wednesday. Karzai, who condemned the deaths, said the victims were "innocent children who were collecting firewood for their families during this cold winter."

Several hundred villagers in the area where the boys were killed responded by protesting for four hours Wednesday against coalition strikes. Demonstrators chanted "Death to America" and "Death to the spies," a reference to what they said was bad intelligence given to helicopter weapons teams.