KABUL, Afghanistan — Troops in attack helicopters that belong to the U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan mistakenly killed nine boys Tuesday with machine-gun and rocket fire as they collected firewood, thinking that the children were Taliban insurgents, the international forces acknowledged Wednesday.
U.S. Army Gen. David Petraeus, who heads the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, ordered all field commanders and helicopter crew members to study their orders again on when coalition aircraft can open fire on people on the ground.
The coalition said it was "deeply sorry" for the error.
The incident was sure to inflame already-raw Afghan sensitivities on civilian deaths from coalition military actions. Mohammed Bismel, a brother of two of the dead boys, told McClatchy Newspapers that he thought Afghan President Hamid Karzai should resign and declare "holy war against foreign forces."
"I am happy to join it," he said.
The boys, aged 7 to 13, were collecting firewood in the Pech valley in Kunar province at 11:30 a.m. local time Tuesday when they were targeted, said Fazlullah Wahidi, the provincial governor. Petraeus said the tragedy seemed to have resulted from a mistake in passing the location of suspected terrorists to the helicopter crew, which was responding to a rocket attack on a base in the province.
"These deaths should have never happened, and I will personally apologize to President Karzai when he returns from his trip to London this week," Petraeus said in a statement.
The coalition was investigating the killings, and it said that disciplinary action against the service members involved was possible.
"This kind of attack leaves bad effects," Wahidi said. "Whenever one civilian is killed, we lose all our achievements and the people get angry."