Afghan President Hamid Karzai Thursday condemned as unacceptable a NATO air strike that killed 18 civilians and would cut short a trip to Beijing to return home, his office said.
Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai (L) sits with his delegation during the closing session of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on June 7, 2012.
"Attacks by NATO that cause life and property losses to civilians under no circumstances could be justified and are not acceptable," Karzai said of the attack Wednesday in Logar province south of Kabul.
Karzai "is deeply grieved" over the deaths of civilians in the NATO strike and in a Kandahar suicide bombing on the same day and "will shorten his trip to China and will very soon return to the country", the palace said.
The president's strong condemnation came as US Defence Secretary Leon Panetta was in Kabul to assess the state of the war and plans for the withdrawal of US troops.
Karzai is in Beijing for a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, a regional grouping led by Russia and China, and was briefed on the two incidents by phone, his office said.
NATO's US-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said "multiple insurgents" were killed in the air strike, which was ordered after troops came under fire during an operation against a Taliban insurgent leader.
But after local police said 18 civilians, including women and children, were killed in the strike, ISAF said it would investigate the charges.
Civilian casualties caused by US and NATO air strikes have been a frequent source of tension between Karzai and the United States.
In the Taliban suicide attack on Wednesday, 23 civilians were killed when two bombers blew themselves up at a makeshift bazaar and truck stop near a major NATO base in southern Kandahar province.