NATO kills 27 civilians in the third mistaken strike in week
Women and a child die in attack Afghan cabinet calls 'unjustifiable'
A NATO air strike on a convoy of minibuses has killed at least 27 civilians including women and a child.
The attack was the third mistaken strike in a week and threatened to further strain relations with President Hamid Karzai's administration.
General Stanley McChrystal, the senior coalition commander in Afghanistan, personally apologised to the president hours after the deaths but yesterday the Afghan cabinet condemned the attack as "unjustifiable".
Nato had mistaken the civilian convoy in Uruzgan province as one carrying militants. Early reports suggested a jet had hit the convoy travelling to the southern city of Kandahar, but Nato investigators were later trying to determine if it had been a helicopter gunship or unmanned drone.
Mr Karzai has previously tearfully denounced Nato for killing civilians and the issue has provoked deep resentment among Afghans.
On Saturday, Mr Karzai brandished a photograph of an eight-year-old girl as he opened parliament, saying she was the only one left to recover the bodies of 12 relatives killed when two Nato rockets hit her home during Operation Moshtarak.
"We need to reach the point where there are no civilian casualties," he said. "Our effort and our criticism will continue until we reach that."
After the latest attack, Gen McChrystal said the coalition was "extremely saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives".
He added: "I have made it clear to our forces that we are here to protect the Afghan people, and inadvertently killing or injuring civilians undermines their trust and confidence in our mission."
Last Thursday, a Nato bombing raid in the northern province of Kunduz killed seven Afghan policemen, according to government officials.
Meanwhile, the top UN official in Afghanistan has called for direct peace talks with Mullah Omar's Taliban leadership. Kai Eide says that plans to use financial incentives to persuade militants to put down arms would not succeed without negotiations with their leaders.
His comments challenge US President Barack Obama's "carrot and stick" strategy offering jobs, retraining, resettlement and protection to Taliban figures who break away from Mullah Omar's insurgency.
According to Mr Eide, the American strategy could actually strengthen the insurgency.
He says that the West has underestimated the number of Taliban fighters driven by conviction rather than money.
"Often, such motivation stems from a conviction that the Afghan government is corrupt and unable to provide law and order combined with a sense of foreign invasion -- not only in military terms, but in terms of disrespect for Afghanistan's culture, values and religion," he says.
Mullah Omar leads the Taliban in Afghanistan and was the country's de facto head of state from 1996 to 2001 until the US-led invasion after the September 11 attacks.
Mr Eide proposes a series of confidence-building measures to improve the atmosphere for talks, including freeing some Taliban figures from the American Bagram Detention Centre and removing Taliban leaders from the UN's sanctions list.
In response, Mullah Omar's Taliban could agree to stop attacking schools and hospitals, he said.
Last month, Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, said there was no place in the reintegration scheme for Mullah Omar or his Taliban leadership.
"You have to begin to go right at the insurgents and peel those off who are willing to renounce violence, renounce al-Qa'ida. That is not going to happen with Mullah Omar and the like," she said. She claimed that many Afghans were fighting simply because the Taliban paid well. (© Daily Telegraph, London)