April 16, 2009 / 1:45 PM / 10 years ago

Western troops concede more Afghan civilian deaths

KABUL (Reuters) - Western forces in Afghanistan acknowledged Thursday they had killed six civilians in an air strike, just days after apologizing for a similar incident that killed five.

Civilian deaths caused by foreign troops hunting the Taliban have become a major cause of friction between the Afghan government and its Western backers, and sapped support for the presence of international forces in the country.

The NATO-led force in Afghanistan said in a statement on Thursday that it had concluded after a joint investigation with Afghan authorities that six civilians were killed, along with four insurgents, in Monday’s air strike in Kunar province.

Fourteen civilians were wounded.

U.S.-led troops acknowledged last week that they killed five civilians in Khost province.

President Hamid Karzai Thursday summoned the commander of Western troops in Afghanistan, U.S. General David McKiernan, to demand an explanation, Karzai’s office said.

“DEEP REGRET”

The general expressed “deep regret that despite continued efforts by NATO and coalition forces, civilians were mistakenly killed” in the two incidents, it added.

McKiernan’s NATO-led force had initially said that Monday’s raid had been targeting militants in an area where it saw no evidence of a civilian presence. Afghan officials said the attack killed six civilians, including two small children.

The number of civilians killed in operations by foreign forces fighting a Taliban-led insurgency has steadily climbed, reaching hundreds last year, according to human right groups and the Afghan government.

Western commanders have lately acknowledged that killing civilians — often because of an over-reliance on air power — has cost their troops vital support among ordinary Afghans.

Commanders say they are now taking new measures to reduce civilian casualties, and also to investigate and apologize more quickly when they do kill them.

U.S. and NATO commanders say insurgents are still responsible for the majority of civilian deaths. Violence has surged in recent years with Taliban fighters having managed to extend the size and scope of their attacks.

Editing by David Fox

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