KABUL, Afghanistan -- A NATO airstrike apparently targeting Taliban commanders in an Afghan village near the border with Pakistan killed 10 civilians, including women and children, officials said Wednesday.
The attack Tuesday night in the village of Chugam, in eastern Kunar province, also killed four Taliban commanders, according to Abdul Zahir, the governor of Shigal district.
Zahir said Afghan and NATO forces were conducting a ground operation in the area when insurgents opened fire on them from inside a house. The ground forces called for backup, resulting in the airstrike, he said.
The U.S.-led NATO coalition said it was investigating the reports, but offered no details.
“Of course we take all reports of civilian casualties seriously, and we’re assessing all the information,” said Air Force Lt. Col. Les Carroll, a coalition spokesman.
Afghan President Hamid Karzai strongly condemned the airstrike, saying in a statement that the “war on terror is not in Afghan villages and houses.”
The attack is likely to add to tensions between the coalition and Karzai, who has long railed against civilian deaths from NATO strikes and has called for foreign troops to cease operations in villages.
Marine Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. took over as commander of the coalition on Sunday after his predecessor, Marine Gen. John R. Allen, was credited with overseeing a sharp reduction in civilian casualties during his 19-month tenure.
Karzai and other Afghan officials welcomed President Obama’s announcement in his State of the Union message that the 66,000-strong U.S. troop presence would be halved over the next year –- with all U.S. troops departing Afghanistan by the end of 2014.
“It’s a wise decision,” Mohammed Zahir Azimi, spokesman for Afghanistan’s Defense Ministry, said in an interview. “Afghan security forces are ready to take full responsibility for the country.”
Afghan forces increasingly are moving to the forefront of the war, leading more than 80% of military operations, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. This spring, Obama said Tuesday, Afghan forces would be in the lead nationwide and U.S. and NATO troops would move into a supporting role.
But U.S. and NATO forces continue to carry out airstrikes and engage in heavy fighting in some provinces, such as southern Kandahar, where the insurgency remains potent. The United States provides all the air power and significant logistical support for Afghanistan’s army, which is plagued by inadequate supply lines and corruption.
“During 2013 and 2014 we will try to build the logistical capabilities of the Afghan National Army,” Azimi said. “We have agreed with [the coalition] to work on this.”
Baktash is a Times special correspondent.