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NATO probes possible civilian deaths in Afghan raid

By the CNN Wire Staff
  • NATO says errant shots from helicopter hit building
  • No civilian deaths confirmed, but investigation under way

Kabul, Afghanistan (CNN) -- NATO forces are investigating whether a raid on Taliban positions in northern Afghanistan left civilians dead after complaints from provincial leaders, an allied general announced Sunday.

A malfunctioning gunsight on a coalition helicopter resulted in errant shots hitting a building during an August 22 strike on an insurgent position in Talah wa Barfak, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force said in a statement issued Sunday. No civilian deaths had been confirmed, but the statement said the governor of Baghlan province had expressed unspecified "concerns" about civilian casualties.

"We regret any possible civilian loss of life or injury. Our first objective is to protect the people of Afghanistan, and in this case we may have failed," said U.S. Air Force Brig. Gen. Timothy M. Zadalis, a top coalition official.

Talah wa Barfak is about about 100 km (63 miles) northwest of Kabul. The ISAF statement said insurgents had been using the building that was struck mistakenly as a "base of operations," and initial reports indicated 13 insurgents were killed with no civilians killed or wounded.

ISAF officials and the Afghan defense and interior ministries are conducting the investigation, Zadalis said.

"We want to be sure we understand exactly what happened, review all information available and set the record straight," he said.

Civilian deaths have strained relations between Afghanistan and the United States, which leads the allied coalition and has the largest contingent of troops in the nearly 9-year-old war. Gen. David Petraeus, the new allied commander in Afghanistan, has given orders to "redouble" efforts to prevent civilian casualties, warning that "every Afghan civilian death diminishes our cause."