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Pentagon apologizes for deaths of Afghan civilians

Story Highlights

• 19 civilians died after U.S. troops opened fire after attack on convoy
• Families given $2,000 in condolence money
• U.S. military conducting criminal investigation
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A U.S. Army commander Tuesday said the military has apologized to Afghans whose relatives were killed in March when U.S. troops fired on them after a suicide attack.

"This was a terrible, terrible mistake," said Army Col. John Nicholson, commander of the 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 10th Mountain Division. "And my nation grieves with you for your loss and suffering. We humbly and respectfully ask for your forgiveness."

Nicholson, briefing reporters in the Pentagon via teleconference from Afghanistan, was referring to a March 4 incident in Nangarhar province. He said that along with the apology, money was given to families -- the equivalent of $2,000 -- meant as an expression of condolence and regret and not a "legal claim per se."

Nicholson, who said "events such as that do set us back" in the fight to defeat Islamic militants and win the allegiance of Afghan citizens, said the military communicated "genuine remorse" to families.

After a suicide car bomb detonated beside a Marine convoy headed from Torkham to Jalalabad, a special operations unit responding to the attack opened fire, killing civilians. Nicholson said 19 people died, an increase from the earlier reports of 12. Fifty others were injured. No Marines died in the attack.

The incident is being examined by U.S. military criminal investigators, and has drawn criticism from human rights officials.

Army Maj. Gen. Francis Kearney III, chief of Central Command's Special Operations unit, examined the March 4 case and ordered the entire unit involved to leave the country.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission has issued a report saying U.S. troops used "excessive and disproportionate" force.

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