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.