The top NATO commander in
Afghanistan has apologised to Afghans for a deadly air strike that claimed
civilian lives, the latest sign that coalition forces are committed to winning
the trust of the Afghan people as well as the war on the ground.
U.S. Gen. Stanley McChrystal has
released a video apology to the Afghan people in which he promises to win
back their confidence and to institute changes to prevent such unintended
fatalities in the future.
“I pledge to strengthen our
efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans,”
McChrystal said in the video released through a NATO website.
“I have instituted a thorough
investigation to prevent this from happening again,” he added.
The air strike took place in
Uruzgan province on Sunday, when NATO jets attacked a convoy of cars thought to
be a group of insurgents. According to Afghan Interior Ministry spokesperson
Zemeri Bashsary, the NATO attack hit three minibuses that were travelling along
a road that is situated near the border between Uruzgan and Day Kundi
provinces. Afghan officials say at least 21 people died in the attack, though
the Afghan cabinet had reported that 27 people had been killed.
It was the deadliest NATO incident
involving civilians since a German-ordered air strike killed dozens near the
northern town of Kunduz last September.
McChrystal previously apologized to
Afghan President Hamid Karzai prior to the wider apology he offered to the
Afghan people on Tuesday.
NATO is especially keen to win
public support from Afghans as its troops make their way into Marjah, a town in
the southern province of Helmand where the Taliban hold a position of strength.
The plan is to clear out the Taliban influence, establish a local government
and gain the confidence of locals.
With some 15,000 NATO and Afghan
troops closing in on Marjah, the sense on the ground is that progress is being
made 10 days into the highly-publicized offensive that is committed to
minimizing civilian casualties.