The military dubbed over Gen. Stanley McChrystal's apology into two Afghan languages, Dari and Pashtu, and made it available to all media for broadcast on Afghan television.
In the video, McChrystal describes how American forces called in an airstrike Sunday against what they believed was a group of insurgents in Uruzgan province, but later realized that Afghan civilians were killed instead. The Afghan government says 27 people died, including four women and a child. It was the third such mistaken bombing in a week's time.
"I express my deepest, heartfelt condolences to the victims and their families. We all share in their grief," McChrystal said. "I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people. I pledge to strengthen our efforts to regain your trust to build a brighter future for all Afghans."
McChrystal apologized to Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Sunday, shortly after it became clear the victims of the Uruzgan attack were civilians. NATO's Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters in Washington on Monday that he "strongly" regrets the killing of Afghan civilians, and added that Taliban fighters have been responsible for the "huge majority" of civilian deaths in the country. His comments were carried by several agencies.
Such quick and direct apologies underscore the importance NATO commanders place on protecting civilians in an effort to win the loyalty of ordinary Afghans. They hope to build trust in the Afghan government and its foreign backers, weaning the local populace away from the Taliban-led insurgency and into civic life.
But attacks like the one in Uruzgan on Sunday are damaging to those efforts, and contribute to a culture of fear and mistrust of foreign troops in Afghanistan. "Blind bombing by foreign troops killed these people," Mohammed Hashem Watanwal, a member of parliament from Uruzgan, told The Financial Times. "This is far from humanity, this is far from Afghan culture, and it's far from Islam. There is no reason to kill innocent people in this way."
The pace of NATO success in Afghanistan has also been slowed by the often under-equipped and under-trained Afghan army, with whom foreign troops are partnering.
Military officials from NATO's 28 member states are meeting in Brussels today and are expected to pledge at least 2,000 additional instructors to help train Afghan security forces, The Associated Press reported. McChrystal had appealed for new trainers to work with the Afghan army and police. The new reinforcements would serve alongside 30,000 more American troops already committed by President Barack Obama – bringing the number of NATO forces in Afghanistan up to 140,000.
Tens of thousands of those have been involved for the past 10 days in Operation Mushtarak, which means "together" in the Dari language. The goal is to oust Taliban from their last major stronghold in southern Afghanistan, a town of about 80,000 called Marjah. It's also the hub for Afghanistan's lively drug trade, which provides half of the world's opium.
The offensive is the biggest so far in the entire Afghan war, and it's seen as critical to McChrystal's strategy of meshing military operations with development, in an effort to extend the Afghan government's control over former Taliban areas. Protecting civilians is key to that push as well.
McChrystal has called for an investigation into the Uruzgan strike, which was unrelated to Operation Mushtarak.
Meanwhile, two separate explosions today in the country's Southern and Eastern provinces have killed at least nine civilians and wounded more than 20.
A bomb rigged to a bicycle went off in Lashkar Gah, killing seven people and wounding up to 14, Afghan police and medical officials told The New York Times. The city is the capital of Helmand province, where Operation Mushtarak is ongoing, but it was unclear whether the explosion targeted coalition troops or was involved at all in the fighting there.
The second blast, in the eastern Nangrahar province, involved a motorized rickshaw laden with explosives. The attack was targeting an Afghan delegation that was investigating a suicide attack that occurred a day earlier and killed 15 people. The delegation escaped injury, but two civilians – one adult and a child – were killed instead. Several others were injured, the same sources told the Times.