By Mail Foreign Service
Ministers faced calls today for a ‘full inquiry’ into the Nato air strike which killed at least 33 Afghan civilians over the weekend.
Veteran Labour MP David Winnick asked whether another incident of Afghan deaths was ‘the way to win hearts and minds’.
Defence Secretary Bob Ainsworth said coalition commander General Stanley McChrystal had already apologised after Nato planes fired on a group of vehicles it believed contained insurgents, only to discover later they were carrying women and children.
The Afghan government and Nato have launched an investigation after the strike on three minibuses in Uruzgan province, which was not part of major push in Helmand province known as Operation Moshtarak .
There were 42 people in the vehicles, which Nato believed were insurgents about to attack its forces.
Gen McChrystal has apologised to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the incident and described it as ‘tragic loss of innocent lives’.
It follows several other incidents of civilian deaths in recent weeks.
On Saturday, Karzai had admonished Nato troops for not doing enough to protect civilian lives.’
This is the largest joint Nato-Afghan operation since the Taliban regime was ousted from power in 2001.
It’s also the first major ground operation since President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 reinforcements to Afghanistan.
But mistakes have continued. In the ongoing offensive against Marjah, two Nato rockets killed 12 people in one home and others have gotten caught in the crossfire.
At least 16 civilians have been killed so far during the offensive, Nato has said, though human rights groups claim the number is at least 19.
Last Thursday, an airstrike in northern Kunduz province missed targeted insurgents and killed seven policemen.
Gen. David Petraeus, who oversees the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, said on NBC’s ‘Meet The Press’ that Marjah was the opening salvo in a campaign to turn back the Taliban that could last 12 to 18 months.
But the continued toll of civilian lives will only make it harder for Nato in its goal to win over the support of local Afghans against Taliban militants in the south.
The newly appointed civilian chief for Marjah arrived Monday to begin the task of restoring government authority after years of Taliban rule even though Nato troops are still battling insurgents in the area.