The highest-ranking international military commander in Afghanistan has categorically denied any American or NATO responsibility for the deaths of at least 17 women and children after nearly seven hours of intensive airstrikes near their compound in eastern Afghanistan, in the latest development in a case that has greatly raised tensions with the Afghan government.
In an interview, the commander, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., insisted that the Taliban had caused the deaths, over April 5 and 6 in a mountainous area of Kunar Province, despite the findings of an Afghan government investigation and the accounts of a number of local residents who said the civilians had died of blast injuries incurred after repeated American airstrikes near the house they were in.
“No S.O.F., no U.S., no coalition forces were involved in the deaths,” General Dunford said, using the abbreviation for Special Operations forces. “It’s been investigated ad nauseam.”
The spokesman for President Hamid Karzai is equally adamant about the conclusion of the Afghan investigation: that the immediate cause of death was the airstrikes. The Afghan government also said reckless disregard for civilian lives had been shown by both the Taliban and a secretive Afghan paramilitary force with C.I.A. advisers. They were locked in a firefight that led the American operatives and their Afghan forces to call in the airstrikes.