The U.S. military has said that its forces killed 33 Afghan civilians during an exchange of fire in a joint operation with the Afghan forces against the Taliban fighters in November.
In a statement issued on January 12, the military called the incident regrettable and said it was caused because the U.S. forces returned fire in self-defense at Taliban militants who were "using civilian housing as firing positions."
Twenty-seven civilians were wounded in the incident, which took place in the village of Boz-e Kandahari in Kunduz Province in the early hours of November 3. According to Afghan and U.S. military officials the joint sweep was aimed at capturing insurgents who were conspiring to seize the provincial capital also called Kunduz.
"Regardless of the circumstances, I deeply regret the loss of innocent lives," commander of U.S. Forces in Afghanistan General John Nicholson said in the statement. "On this occasion the Taliban chose to hide amongst civilians and then attacked Afghan and U.S. forces."
Nicholson added that he wants to assure President Ashraf Ghani and the people of Afghanistan that the U.S. forces will take all possible measures to protect Afghan civilians.
"We will continue to assist the Afghan security forces in their efforts to defend their country," he said.
The fire fight was part of a larger push to repel the Taliban militants from the vicinity of the provincial capital. Taliban fighters briefly breached Afghan defenses in Kunduz in late October. The strategic city close to the Afghanistan’s border with Tajikistan was briefly overrun by the Taliban in late September 2015.
The investigation decided that no action will be taken against the U.S. troops. "The investigation concluded that U.S. forces acted in self-defense, in accordance with the Law of Armed Conflict, and in accordance with all applicable regulations and policy," the U.S. military statement said.
U.S. Military said that two of its soldiers and three Afghan army commandos were killed in the incident while another four Americans and 11 Afghan commandos were wounded. Some 26 Taliban militants were also killed.
At the time, the incident caused an uproar in Afghanistan. Local residents protested the fighting. They carried more than a dozen corpses including those of children towards local government offices.
After the raid, Kunduz residents carried over a dozen corpses of the dead, including children and family members of the Taliban fighters, toward a local governor's office in a show of rage.
After the fighting was over, Kunduz lawmaker Toryalai Kakar called on Washington to compensate the victims' families.
Tadamichi Yamamoto, the head of the UN mission in the county said that "the loss of civilian life is unacceptable and undermines efforts towards building peace and stability in Afghanistan."
“When conducting aerial operations, international military forces should take all feasible measures to minimize civilian harm, including full analysis of the context for aerial strikes,” he added in a statement in November.
Last year Pentagon disciplined 16 service members over a separate incident in Kunduz in 2015. On October 3 a U.S. air strike killed 42 people in a hospital run by medical aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres.
Based on reporting by AP, Reuters and dpa