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NATO Orders Probe of Afghan Airstrike Alleged to Have Killed Many Civilians

"When you're sitting at a command center, it may look like you're seeing nothing but insurgents, but the reality can be pretty complex," said Rear Adm. Gregory J. Smith, a senior member of the U.S. assessment team. "We have to do everything we can to understand the truth and get that truth told as quickly as possible."

Insurgent activity has increased markedly in the Kunduz area in recent months. German forces responsible for securing the province have encountered more frequent ambushes and roadside bombings.

According to the German officers, the incident began Thursday evening when insurgents hijacked the two trucks on the main highway connecting Kunduz to the Tajikistan border. The B-1B bomber, which was flying in the area in support of a different mission, spotted the vehicles several hours later after they had become bogged down while trying to cross the river, 13 miles south of Kunduz, the provincial capital. German commanders declared the scenario an imminent threat and requested air support.

Two F-15Es arrived on the scene about 2 a.m. Friday. After receiving instructions from a German targeter, one of the planes dropped two 500-pound bombs, one on each truck, about 30 minutes later.

"While the airstrike was clearly directed at the insurgents, ISAF will do whatever is necessary to help the community, including medical assistance and evacuation as requested," said Canadian Brig Gen. Eric Tremblay, an ISAF spokesman.

In Washington, U.S. military officials said two 500-pound GBU-38 bombs were dropped on the trucks. The bombs are guided using Global Positioning System technology.

The German-led team operating in the area made the decision to call in the airstrike, said one U.S. official, who was briefed on the events by the command in Afghanistan. "We are looking into any allegations of civilian casualties," the official said. "Any civilian casualties are serious."

It was not immediately clear at what level in the U.S. chain of command the strikes were approved or how the military determined that there were no civilians in the area.

Staff writers Ann Scott Tyson, William Branigin and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.

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