4 Mar 2011

US airstrike kills 9 Afghan boys in 'terrible mistake'

10:01 am on 4 March 2011

Australian Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd says it is unacceptable that nine young Afghan boys were killed in a tragic misuse of United States air power.

NATO commander General David Petraeus has apologised for the incident, calling it a "terrible mistake", and ordered an investigation into the deadly strike by US helicopters.

Local officials say the strike killed nine boys under the age of 12 who were gathering firewood in Afghanistan's north-eastern region.

One survivor of the attack, an 11-year-old boy, is reported as saying the helicopters hovered over the boys, rose up, fired rockets and then shot the boys one after the other using their cannons.

Speaking from the Afghan capital, Kabul, Mr Rudd told the ABC that while the number of civilian deaths arising from international operations in Afghanistan has been falling, the boys' deaths are unacceptable.

"I note that General Petraeus has ordered an investigation," Mr Rudd says. "I note also that NATO has indicated that if necessary, when these sorts of incidents occur, appropriate disciplinary action should be taken," he said.

"Therefore we await to see what the investigation reveals, but I'll be of course raising this with General Petraeus and others when I'm here in Kabul, where I've just arrived."

A NATO International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) statement initially said the incident happened after an insurgent rocket attack on a military base prompted coalition forces to return fire, including with air power.

But General Petraeus later admitted the strike was a terrible mistake against children.

He has ordered all helicopter crews to be re-briefed on the need to keep civilian casualties "to the absolute minimum".