The defence secretary voiced "sincere condolences and personal regret over the recent loss of innocent lives as a result of coalition air strikes," pledging to look for better ways to target insurgents.
"On those rare occasions when we do make mistakes, when there is an error, we need to apologize quickly, to compensate civilians quickly, and then carry out an investigation," he said.
In addition, General David McKiernan, the senior American military commander in Afghanistan, has promised to shore up the rules of engagement that have resulted air attacks on Afghan civilians:
Hoping to reduce that toll, General McKiernan said, he issued a “revised tactical order” to NATO troops on Sept. 2, which emphasized putting Afghan forces out front in searches of homes and requiring multiple sources of information before attacking targets.
It also set rules calibrating how quickly troops may increase their use of force to lethal levels, the general said.
Most of the rules were already in place, General McKiernan said, but the revised order also was meant to re-emphasize proper procedures, especially as new forces are scheduled to enter the combat zone in the coming months.
The revised order was issued after an American strike in Western Afghanistan in August, but fell short of the formal status-of-forces agreement demanded by the Afghan government in the wake of that strike.
And in another sign of the ferocity of the fighting in Afghanistan, four U.S. soldiers and an Afghan were killed by a roadside blast in eastern Afghanistan.