Conflict & Justice

Karzai: Petraeus apology for children's deaths "not enough"


Afghan protesters shout slogans during a demonstration following the killing of nine children by NATO troops in the province of Kunar, in Kabul on March 6, 2011.


Shah Marai

Afghan President Hamid Karzai rejected a rare personal apology Sunday by the American commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, for a foreign air strike that killed nine children.

Petraeus attended a meeting of the Afghan National Security Council Sunday and apologized directly to Karzai for the killing of nine boys in Kunar province on Tuesday. Petraeus said the killing of the boys, who were 9 to 15 years old, was a "great mistake."

Karzai said regrets were insufficient.

"The president said the apology was not enough and stressed that civilian casualties caused during operations by coalition forces were the main cause of strained relations between the United States and Afghanistan," a statement by Karzai's palace said.

"The people of Afghanistan are fed up with such horrific incidents and apologies or condemnation is not going to heal their wounds," it quoted Karzai as saying.

Civilian casualties by NATO forces have caused significant tensions between Western forces and the Afghan people. Hundreds of demonstrators marched Sunday in Kabul as they chanted anti-American slogans and criticized the deaths by U.S. forces.

"They always apologize and then they do it again and again," Ahmad Jawaid, a Kabul University student who protested Sunday, told the Wall Street Journal. "We don't want apologies. We want them to take it very seriously and stop."

A recent report by the United Nations states that more than three-quarters of civilian deaths are now caused by insurgents. However, the ones by foreign forces bring more attention and anger because of underlining animosities.

Karzai and local police said that all nine of those killed by the air strike Tuesday were children collecting firewood in Darah-Ye Pech district.

"A couple of the boys who died were the only males in their families and were responsible for the care of their mothers and sisters. The loss of the only male means that the women will have to rely on relatives, who usually are already overburdened with their own families," The New York Times reports. "A boy who was wounded but survived described a helicopter gunship that hunted down the children as they gathered wood on the mountainside outside their village. The gunners apparently mistook the children for insurgents who fired on an American base hours earlier."

Petraeus has ordered an investigation into the killings and a review of the procedures used by helicopter crews.

Obama also expressed "deep regret" for the killings.

-- Hanna Ingber Win