U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates has apologized for the accidental deaths of nine Afghan children in a coalition airstrike last week, calling it a setback.
His comments came during a joint press briefing Monday in Kabul with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, who accepted the apology.
Gates also said the United States would be “well-positioned” to begin withdrawing troops from Afghanistan in July of this year. He told reporters the U.S. is open to having some type of military presence in Afghanistan, when combat forces leave the country in 2014.
The defense secretary arrived in Afghanistan Monday on a two-day visit to gauge progress in the war.
Earlier in the day, Gates traveled to Bagram air base north of Kabul, where he told troops they have made headway against insurgents despite a “tough” winter. He warned of an even tougher spring and summer.
The commander of NATO-led troops in eastern Afghanistan told reporters traveling with Gates that violence in the region has increased. Major General John Campbell said militants are trying to get an early start on their spring offensive.
Ties between Afghanistan and NATO have been strained since the mistaken killing of nine Afghan boys during a coalition airstrike in northeastern Kunar province last Tuesday.