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AFGHANISTAN - Feb 15 - NATO Rockets Kill 12 Afghan Civilians.

Twelve Afghans die 14 when two rockets fired at insurgents missed their target and struck a house during the second day of NATO's most ambitious effort yet to break the militants' grip on the country's dangerous south. Thousands of NATO and Afghan troops encountered pockets of resistance, fighting off sniper attacks, as they moved deeper into Marjah, a town of 80,000 people that is the linchpin of the militants' logistical and opium-smuggling network in Helmand province. Marines and Afghan troops used metal detectors and sniffer dogs, searching compound to compound for explosives rigged to explode. Blasts from controlled detonations could be heard about every 10 minutes north of Marjah. Afghan and international troops want to secure the area, set up a local government and rush in development aid in what is seen as the first test of the new US strategy for turning the tide of the eight-year-old war. The civilian deaths were a blow to NATO and the Afghan government's attempts to win the allegiance of Afghans and get them to turn away from the insurgents. NATO said two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System were aimed at insurgents firing on Afghan and NATO forces, but stuck 300 meters off their intended target. "We deeply regret this tragic loss of life", said Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the top commander in Afghanistan. "The current operation in central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan. It's regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost". McChrystal said he had apologized to Afghan Pres Hamid Karzai for the accident and had suspended the use of the rocket system until the incident can be reviewed. Karzai issued a statement minutes earlier saying 10 members of the same family died when the rocket hit a house in Marjah. He ordered an investigation into who fired the rocket. Before the offensive began Feb 20, Karzai pleaded with Afghan and foreign military leaders to be "seriously careful for the safety of civilians". On the first day of the offensive, NATO reported two troop casualties an American and a Briton. Afghan officials said at least 27 insurgents have been killed in the operation. "We're in the majority of the city at this point", said Lt. Josh Diddams, a Marine spokesman. He said the nature of the resistance has changed from the initial assault, with insurgents now holding ground in some neighborhoods. "We're starting to come across areas where the insurgents have actually taken up defensive positions", he said. "Initially it was more hit and run". It could take weeks to completely reclaim Marjah, according to Brig. Gen. Larry Nicholson, a top Marine commander in the south.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Date:Feb 20, 2010
Words:452
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