By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates today offered an apology for the deaths of Afghan children who were killed by a NATO air strike last week, describing it as a “setback.”
Gates arrived today in Afghanistan amid fresh tensions after NATO helicopters mistakenly killed nine Afghan children on March 2 in eastern Afghanistan.
Speaking at a joint press conference with President Hamid Karzai in Kabul, Gates said the United States would be “well positioned” to begin withdrawing troops in July under a plan to hand over security responsibility to Afghan forces by the end of 2014.
The defense secretary earlier in the day addressed U.S. troops at Bagram air base, which is an operations base for U.S. and NATO forces in eastern Afghanistan.
He said both the U.S. and Afghan governments agreed that the U.S. military should remain involved in the training of Afghan troops after the planned 2014 end of combat operations.
During his two-day visit, Gates is to travel to eastern and southern parts of Afghanistan — the areas most fiercely contested by Taliban militants.