NATO Apologizes for Killing Unarmed Afghans in Car

KABUL, Afghanistan — NATO apologized Wednesday for shooting to death four unarmed Afghan civilians this week in Khost Province and acknowledged that it had wrongly described two of the victims as “known insurgents.”

The shootings on Monday evening were the latest occasion in which Afghan civilians had been killed by military convoys at NATO or American checkpoints, or in bungled Special Operations raids.

The spate of civilian deaths has infuriated Afghan leaders and undermined the West’s war plan just as it is about to enter its most crucial phase — a planned summer offensive in Kandahar.

NATO military officials said on Wednesday that they were rushing to deploy training teams across Afghanistan so troops could “implement critical lessons learned from previous incidents.”

But in some parts of the country, American and NATO convoys are already considered by Afghans to be as dangerous a threat as Taliban checkpoints and roadside bombs, raising questions about whether the damage can be reversed to any real degree.

“People hate the international forces,” said Bakhtialy, a tribal elder in Kandahar who, like many Afghans, goes by one name.

“Their presence at the moment is too risky for ordinary people. They are killing people, and they don’t let people travel on the road.”

In the shooting on Monday, a NATO convoy opened fire on a Toyota carrying four men returning home about 6 p.m. in a rural district near the border with Pakistan. Local Afghan officials said the four men were civilians and included a police officer and a 12-year-old boy.

In the military’s initial account of the shooting, the vehicle accelerated toward the convoy and ignored warning shots, posing a threat to the troops. After the fact, the military said, troops used “biometric data” like fingerprints to identify two of the dead men as “known insurgents.”

But on Wednesday the United States-led NATO military command in Kabul apologized for “this tragic loss of life” and said the biometric data “has not yet been determined to be relevant” to the killings.

Maj. Gen. Mike Regner, a NATO official, said commanders “at all levels are increasing efforts to protect the Afghan people affected by our operations.”

The military said that NATO and Afghan investigators were continuing to review the shooting and that a “formal, more thorough joint investigation may also be conducted.”

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