KABUL: The US commander of Nato forces in Afghanistan has apologised over the deaths of civilians in an air strike this week, flying personally to the scene to deliver his condolences.
President Hamid Karzai had expressed outrage over the incident in which Afghan officials said 18 civilians including women and children were killed, and cut short a visit to Beijing to return home.
Nato commander General John Allen flew to Logar province "to see local leaders and the population to apologise and offer condolences to the families", spokesman Brigadier General Carsten Jacobson told AFP.
This was the first public acknowledgement by Nato that civilians died in the air strike on a home in the province in the early hours of Wednesday.
Nato forces initially reported that "multiple insurgents" were killed in the strike, which was ordered after troops were attacked with "small arms fire and a grenade" during an operation against a Taliban insurgent leader.
An AFP correspondent at the scene shortly after the attack saw and filmed the bodies of five women and seven children, one as young as a year old.
"Attacks by Nato that cause life and property losses to civilians under no circumstances could be justified and are not acceptable," Karzai said of the attack.
This is the second time within a month that Allen has had to admit civilian deaths in Nato air strikes that have strained relations between Karzai and the US, which leads Nato forces in the fight against Taliban insurgents.
In early May, Karzai carpeted Allen and US ambassador Ryan Crocker in the presidential palace after a number of civilians were killed in two Nato air strikes.
Nato and US forces admitted in a joint statement after the meeting that civilians had died in two separate hits and pledged to take action to minimise any similar attacks.
The statement gave no details of how many civilians died in each of the two incidents but local officials put the total at more than 20, including women and children.
And on May 27, Karzai ordered an investigation after Afghan officials said a Nato air strike killed a family of eight, including six children, in eastern Afghanistan.
For the past five years the number of civilians killed in the war has risen steadily, reaching a record of 3,021 in 2011, with the vast majority caused by insurgents, the United Nations says.
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