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Civilian death toll climbs in Afghan offensive

Last Updated: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 11:04

Marjah: Three more Afghan civilians have been killed in the assault on a southern Taliban stronghold, NATO forces said Tuesday, highlighting the toll on the population from an offensive aimed at making them safer.

The deaths — in three separate incidents — come after two errant US missiles struck a house on the outskirts of the town of Marjah on Sunday, killing 12 people, half of them children. Afghan officials said Monday that three Taliban fighters were in the house at the time of the attack.

About 15,000 NATO and Afghan troops are taking part in the massive offensive around Marjah — the linchpin of the Taliban logistical and opium poppy smuggling network in the militant-influenced south. US Marines are spearheading the assault.

The offensive is the biggest joint operation since the 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan and a major test of a retooled NATO strategy to focus on protecting civilians rather than killing insurgents.

But in the fourth day of an assault that could take weeks, the drumbeat of gunfire and controlled detonations of planted bombs is sparking fear that civilians will bear the burden of the fight.

In two of the most recently reported incidents, Afghan men came toward NATO forces and ignored shouts and hand signals to stop, NATO said. The troops shot at the men and killed them. One of the shootings appeared to match an incident previously reported by The Associated Press.

In the third incident, two Afghan men were caught in the crossfire between insurgents and NATO forces. Both were wounded and one died of his injuries despite being given medical care, NATO said.
Taliban fighters have stepped up counterattacks against Marines and Afghan soldiers in Marjah, slowing the allied advance to a crawl despite Afghan government claims that the insurgents are broken and on the run.
Taliban fighters appeared to be slipping under cover of darkness into compounds already deemed free of weapons and explosives, then opening fire on the Marines from behind US lines.


First Published: Tuesday, February 16, 2010 - 11:04

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