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NATO airstrike kills 33 civilians in Afghanistan.

Summary: The Afghan government on Monday strongly condemned a NATO air strike that killed 33 civilians after mistaking them for militants, calling it "unjustifiable."

The air strike

The Afghan government on Monday strongly condemned a NATO air strike that killed 33 civilians after mistaking them for militants, calling it "unjustifiable."

The air strike on Sunday hit three vehicles of people in Daykundi, which has been carved out of Uruzgan province, after NATO mistook them for militants moving towards their base, NATO and Afghan officials said.

A statement from the decision-making council of ministers, which is chaired by President Hamid Karzai, condemned the incident as "unjustifiable."

"Initial reports indicate that NATO fired Sunday on a convoy of three vehicles in Gujran district of the province of Daykundi, killing at least 33 civilians including four women and one child and injuring 12 others while they were on their way to Kandahar," the statement said. The NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) said in a statement civilians had been killed as they approached a joint NATO-Afghan unit in Uruzgan province on Sunday, but did not say how many.

Civilian casualties have been a major cause of friction between the Afghan government and foreign forces in Afghanistan, who have launched two big offensives in the past eight months in a bid to turn the tide of a growing Taliban-led insurgency.

The NATO commander in Afghanistan meanwhile was quoted as saying Monday that the southern province of Kandahar was likely to be the next target of operations to eradicate the Taliban.

U.S. General Stanley McChrystal, commander of 121,000 U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan, said a major offensive now in its second week in a poppy-growing valley in Helmand province was a "model for the future."

Helmand and neighboring Kandahar -- where Kandahar city was once the Taliban capital -- have been the main hotspots of the insurgency launched soon after the U.S.-led invasion toppled the Islamists' 1996-2001 regime.

NATO and Afghan officials have said that Operation Mushtarak (Together) under way in Helmand is a template for expanding the campaign to at least three other Taliban-held areas of the province.

McChrystal was quoted by Britain's The Times newspaper as telling reporters that operations will also move into Kandahar, although he did not specify any areas.

"We are going to go to where significant parts of the population are at risk and Kandahar is clearly very, very important not just to the south but to the nation," he said, adding: "It is not the only area though."

Some 15,000 U.S., NATO and Afghan troops are facing some strong resistance from Taliban fighters in the Marjah and Nad Ali areas of the central Helmand River valley, slowed by snipers and hidden bombs.

Operation Mushtarak is a test of a new U.S.-led strategy for wresting control from Taliban and drug traffickers in the region as part of a blueprint for re-establishing Afghan government sovereignty.

It is also the first test of U.S. President Barack Obama's faith in McChrystal's counter-insurgency plans for Afghanistan, in which the military works closely with civilian authorities to neutralize insurgent influence.

"In many ways it is a model for the future: an Afghan-led operation supported by the coalition, deeply engaged with the people," McChrystal was quoted as saying.

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Publication:Al Arabiya (Saudi Arabia)
Geographic Code:9AFGH
Date:Feb 21, 2010
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