Afghan civilians killed in British-ordered air strike

Defence sources concede that there is 'high possibility' British aircraft were involved in the deaths of four civilians in an ambush the southern province of Helmand

Four civilians died in an air strike ordered by British troops after they were ambushed in southern Afghanistan, the Ministry of Defence said last night. It was not immediately clear whether RAF planes or those from other Nato countries carried out the attack, but defence sources said there was a "high possibility" British aircraft had been involved.

Two women and two children were killed in the strike, which was called in after Taliban fighters attacked British troops operating in the southern province of Helmand, the MoD said. The troops had been caught up in a firefight after being ambushed. Air support was called in and directed at the area where the Taliban appeared to have been operating. One other civilian injured in the attack was evacuated to the British field hospital at Camp Bastion.

The MoD said in a statement: "We deeply regret that this incident happened and do everything we can to mitigate this happening. This incident is currently under investigation and it would be inappropriate for us to comment."

Afghan president Hamid Karzai has in the past expressed anger at the number of civilians killed by air strikes. Nato said in a statement that its rules of engagement "in accordance with the law of armed conflict are designed to minimise the risk of civilian casualties". It added that it "never knowingly targets civilians".

A total of 1,977 civilians died as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan last year, including nearly 240 killed in air strikes by foreign troops, according to the Afghanistan NGO Safety Office, a body that monitors security for non-governmental organisations.


Richard Norton-Taylor

The GuardianTramp

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