NATO rockets miss rebel target and kill 12 civilians
A wounded US soldier, left, is wished well by comrades as he is evacuated from Helmand province in Afghanistan. Brennan LinsleyUS general apologises to Afghans as 10 members of same family die
Twelve civilians were killed in Afghanistan yesterday when two rockets fired at rebels missed their target and struck a house during the second day of Operation Moshtarak.
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, using metal detectors and sniffer dogs, searched for explosives rigged to explode. Blasts from controlled detonations could be heard about every 10 minutes north of Marjah.
Nato said two rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System were aimed at insurgents firing on Afghan and Nato forces, but stuck 1,000ft off their intended target.
"We deeply regret this tragic loss of life," said General Stanley McChrystal, the top US 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."
General McChrystal said he had apologised to Afghan President Hamid Karzai for the accident and had suspended the use of the rocket system until the incident could be reviewed.
Mr Karzai issued a statement minutes earlier saying 10 members of the same family had died when the rocket hit a house in Marjah. Before the offensive began on Saturday, Mr Karzai pleaded with 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.
Nato forces uncovered 550lbs of ammonium nitrate and other bomb-making materials while clearing a compound in Marjah, a coalition statement said.
The United Nations said an estimated 900 families had fled the Marjah area and were registered for emergency assistance in the provincial capital of Lashkar Gah about 32km away.
The operation, code-named Moshtarak, or Together, was described as the biggest joint operation of the Afghan war, with 15,000 troops involved, including some 7,500 troops fighting in Marjah.
The attack is also the first major combat operation since US President Barack Obama ordered 30,000 US reinforcements there in December to try to turn the tide of the war.
Marine commanders had said they expected between 400 to 1,000 insurgents -- including more than 100 foreign fighters -- to be holed up in Marjah. The town of 80,000 people, about 580km southwest of Kabul, is the biggest southern town under Taliban control.
Once Marjah is secured, Nato hopes to rush in aid and restore public services in a bid to win support among the estimated 125,000 people who live in the town and surrounding villages.
The Afghan government's ability to restore those services is crucial to the success of the operation and to prevent the Taliban from returning.