Civilians die in Afghan offensive

Nato admits rocket hit a home as Operation Moshtarak targeted Taliban-held town.

    About 15,000 US, British and Afghan troops are taking part in the offensive around Marjah [Reuters]

    The Nato-led force said that General Stanley McChrystal, the US and Nato commander in Afghanistan, had apologised to Hamid Karzai, the Afghan president, over the deaths.

    'Regrettable' deaths

    Earlier, Karzai ordered an investigation into the incident near Marjah, which came after he had warned foreign forces to take all measures to protect civilians. 

    In depth

      Operation Moshtarak at a glance 
      Gallery: Operation Moshtarak
      Video: Forces 'positive' on Afghan assault
      Video: Afghanistan's influential elders
      Video: Afghanistan's displaced face harsh winter
      Focus: To win over Afghans, US must listen
      Timeline: Afghanistan in crisis

    The Isaf statement quoted McChrystal as saying: "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.

    "We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents," he said.

    Nato and US officials had earlier hailed the success, so far, of Operation Moshtarak, meaning "together" in the local Dari language.

    At least 27 fighters were reported to have been killed during the first day of fighting, while Nato said it had uncovered bomb-making materials and a weapons cache.

    However, there will be concerns about the effect that civilian casualties will have on the long-term aim of keeping Marjah, a town of about 80,000 people in the central Helmand River valley, out of the hands of the Taliban and drug traffickers.

    Al Jazeera's Zeina Khodr, reporting from the capital Kabul, said that a high death toll could cause the whole operation to "backfire". 

    "To win this war you are going to need the support of the people," she said.

    "The Afghan government is facing a real test. It has to make good on promises of security and services in central Helmand."

    'Winning trust'

    Ali Ahmed Jalali, the former interior minister of Afghanistan, told Al Jazeera: "Marjah is a microcosm of the approach adopted by the international forces to clear an area and rebuild it and win the trust of the population.

    "If the Marjah operations does lead to better stability in the area and if that is done properly, that will send a message to other parts of the country – but Marjah is only one of 385 districts in the country," he said.

    James Bays, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Kabul, said: "It's very easy for the military to stage an operation like this, but they have to hold the territory.

    "It is going to be very hard for them to recognise who is a member of the local population not fighting them and who is a member of the Taliban living there who does want to fight them."

    At least 15,000 US, British and Afghan soldiers have been involved in operations around Marjah.

    James Jones, the US president's senior security adviser, said in Washington that the offensive was "going very well".

    "It's an important moment in time because this is the first time we put together all of the elements of the president's new strategy."

    But US military officials acknowledged that it could take weeks to secure Marjah and the surrounding areas.

    "That doesn't necessarily mean an intense gun battle, but it probably will be 30 days of clearing," Brigadier General Larry Nicholson said.

    The Afghan and foreign troops have met only sporadic resistance from Taliban fighters, but have been targeted with improvised explosive devices and booby-traps.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


    YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE

    Double standards: 'Why aren't we all with Somalia?'

    Double standards: 'Why aren't we all with Somalia?'

    More than 300 people died in Somalia but some are asking why there was less news coverage and sympathy on social media.

    The life and death of Salman Rushdie, gentleman author

    The life and death of Salman Rushdie, gentleman author

    The man we call 'Salman Rushdie' today is not the brilliant author of the Satanic Verses, but a Picassoesque imposter.

    The Beirut Spy: Shula Cohen

    The Beirut Spy: Shula Cohen

    The story of Shula Cohen, aka The Pearl, who spied for the Israelis in Lebanon for 14 years.