KABUL (Reuters) - The NATO-led force in Afghanistan acknowledged on Sunday it had killed five Afghan civilians, including three women, during a botched night raid on a home in the southeast of the country in February.
Civilian casualties during operations by foreign forces cause deep anger among Afghans and President Hamid Karzai has called for night raids to be banned.
“International forces were responsible for the deaths of three women who were in the same compound where two men were killed by the joint Afghan-international patrol searching for a Taliban insurgent,” the alliance said in a statement.
NATO said its troops had entered the house on February 12 in Gardez district of Paktia province, believing an insurgent was inside. They killed the two men because they carried weapons, although later learned they were not insurgents.
“We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families,” Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in the statement. The three women were killed during the shooting, NATO said.
NATO had earlier said its troops had found the women already killed, bound and gagged, but later acknowledged that this was untrue. Troops who visited the scene had made the mistake after seeing the bodies bound in preparation for burial, it said.
Reducing the civilian deaths caused by his troops has been a central focus of General Stanley McChrystal, the commander of NATO and U.S. forces, who took over in the middle of 2009 promising a new strategy to protect Afghans.
In March, McChrystal issued new orders to his troops calling for restrictions on night raids, though not an outright ban, saying that despite their tactical value they had come at a “steep cost in terms of perceptions of the Afghan people.”
The United Nations says foreign and Afghan government troops killed 25 percent fewer civilians last year than in 2008. Civilian deaths rose overall, because the number killed by insurgents rose 40 percent, making last year the war’s deadliest.
Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by David Stamp