KABUL, Afghanistan -- The U.S. commander of Western forces in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, traveled Friday to a province outside Kabul to apologize for an American airstrike that Afghan officials said killed 18 civilians.
The NATO force released video footage of Allen expressing condolences to bereaved villagers in Logar province, the scene of the airstrike early Wednesday. Previously, Western military had said only that the incident was under investigation, and had acknowledged only that two civilian women were hurt.
Tensions over the incident had flared during a visit a day earlier by Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta. While Panetta was on the ground in Kabul on Thursday, President Hamid Karzai, traveling in China, released a statement harshly criticizing NATO forces over civilian casualties.
Western military officials said the predawn raid on Wednesday was aimed at a Taliban commander and his associates in Logar’s Baraki Barak district. But local officials said bombardment killed not only insurgents, but 18 women and children -- most of them wedding guests -- in a structure adjacent to the one that was targeted.
The NATO force said the airstrike was called in after coalition troops came under fire.
Civilian casualties have been a constant source of strife between foreign troops and the government of Karzai. Insurgents are responsible for about four-fifths of such deaths and injuries, but ones that come at the hands of NATO forces cause particular bitterness.
The Western military often accuses insurgents of deliberately using civilians as cover, but on Friday, Allen kept the emphasis on regret over the deaths. “Our weapons killed these people,” the Associated Press quoted him as saying during the visit to Pul-i-Alam, Logar’s provincial capital.
-- Laura King
Photo: The commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, Gen. John Allen, center, meets with the governor of Logar Province, Allhaj Mohammad Tahir Sabari, left, south of Kabul, Afghanistan on Friday. Credit: Deb Riechmannc / Associated Press