NATO has launched yet another investigation into the deaths of five Afghan civilians killed during a botched nighttime raid in February.
The announcement comes after a separate Afghan Interior Ministry investigation of the incident found possible evidence tampering by U.S. and Afghan troops involved in the shooting.
The news comes a day after NATO reversed itself, following weeks of denials, and admitted that its forces had been responsible for the civilian deaths that resulted from the mistaken targeting of a compound by a U.S.-Afghan military team searching for insurgents.
On Feb. 12, U.S. Special Operations Forces and Afghan troops raided a compound in Gardez, in eastern Afghanistan, that resulted in the deaths of two armed Afghan men. NATO said its forces had also discovered the bodies of three women in the compound who were said to have been bound and gagged.
Despite protests from surviving family members, NATO officials had maintained for weeks that the women had been killed by the insurgents. But NATO reversed itself this weekend after acknowledging that its investigation had determined that all five deaths had resulted from NATO fire.
In a statement issued Sunday, NATO admitted it's forces had targeted the wrong compound and killed two armed men in the mistaken belief they were insurgents and that the three women were "accidentally killed as a result of the joint force firing at the men."
The statement said NATO forces involved in the incident were unaware of local burial customs that had led them to believe the women had been bound and gagged.
"We now understand that the men killed were only trying to protect their families," Brigadier General Eric Tremblay, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in the statement.
However, a separate review of the incident by the Afghan Interior Ministry says its investigators found signs of possible evidence tampering at the scene by the forces involved, including the removal of bullets from walls near where the women were killed.
A NATO official says a new investigation has been launched to determine if the Interior Ministry's "allegations are founded." Another NATO official says Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the senior NATO commander in Afghanistan had been briefed on the results of the Afghan investigation, but wouldn't comment further because the investigation was ongoing.
The Times of London made stronger allegations on Monday, reporting that Afghan investigators had determined that American forces might have been involved in a cover-up, alleging they had "dug bullets out of their victims' bodies in the bloody aftermath" and then "washed the wounds with alcohol before lying to their superiors about what happened."
The NATO official says the initial investigation, the conclusions of which were released this weekend, discussed "having dug a couple of bullets out of the wall" to determine where the rounds "ended up hitting." The investigation focused in on where the bullets hit a wall in one specific room to determine their ballistic path. But, the NATO official said, "we strongly deny having done anything to the bodies, to include removing bullets."