NATO rockets miss target, kill 12 Afghan civilians

By Joshua Partlow
Sunday, February 14, 2010; 3:37 PM

HERAT, AFGHANISTAN -- Two errant rockets killed 12 Afghan civilians on Sunday during the ongoing military offensive in southern Afghanistan, prompting President Hamid Karzai to call for an investigation into the deaths.

Rockets from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System were fired at insurgents who were shooting at Afghan and coalition troops in Nad Ali, a Taliban stronghold near the main military effort in Marja, according to a NATO statement. The rockets landed on a house about 300 yards from the intended target, killing 12 people.

Karzai has urged U.S. and Afghan troops to take all possible precautions to minimize the chance of civilian casualties. On Saturday, his office issued a statement instructing the Afghan and international troops involved in the operation "to exercise absolute caution to avoid harming civilians."

Karzai was "extremely upset" by the news of the deaths Sunday, his spokesman Wahid Omar said.

"The president has time and again stressed the fact that in this operation, the real win is to win the people, to protect the people, to give people hope for a better future, that is how we will win this war," Omar said. "More than killing anyone, including the opposition, it's about protecting civilians."

Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the top American commander in Afghanistan, issued an apology and said use of the rocket system had been suspended pending a review of the incident. "We deeply regret this tragic loss of life," McChrystal said in a statement. "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."

Omar said Karzai had asked U.S. troops to refrain from aerial bombings as much as possible during the offensive, and that for the most part they have complied. Out of 140 requests for airstrikes, six or seven have been carried out, he said. "There is major attention to the fact that aerial bombardment should be avoided," he said.

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