US accepts blame for Afghan civilian deaths

The United States says warplane was not following bombing rules when it killed 26 Afghan civilians.

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The United States accidentally killed an estimated 26 Afghan civilians last month when a warplane did not follow bombing rules, the US military concluded in a report that recommends even tighter controls to limit deaths that risk turning Afghans against the US war effort. "The inability to discern the presence of civilians and assess the potential collateral damage of those strikes is inconsistent with the US government's objective of providing security and safety for the Afghan people," the report prepared by US Central Command said.

Three US airstrikes conducted after dark near the close of the chaotic fight in the western Farah province probably accounted for the civilian deaths, according to the report released on Friday. It contained only mild criticism of the B-1 bomber crew involved, however, and the top US military official has already said there is no reason to punish any US personnel. Local Afghan officials have said as many as 140 people were killed, and the US report did not rule out that its estimate is low.

An exact accounting will be impossible, the report said. It concluded that at least 78 Taliban fighters were also killed, along with five Afghan national police officers. Two US personnel and seven Afghan security officers were wounded. The deaths last month raised the stakes in a growing battle for the good will of Afghan civilians, whose allegiance the defence secretary Robert Gates has said is crucial if the United States is going to win the faltering war in Afghanistan.