NATO Airstrike Kills at Least 21 Civilians in Afghanistan

Afghan officials say a NATO airstrike has killed at least 21 civilians in southern Afghanistan.

An Afghan Interior Ministry spokesman says another 14 people were wounded in the strike Sunday in Uruzgan province.

NATO confirmed that civilians, including women and children, were killed in a strike in the province, but did not provide a casualty toll.

The U.S. commander of the international force, Stanley McChrystal, expressed regret for the incident, saying in a statement that killing or injuring civilians undermines the Afghan people's trust in NATO's mission. Uruzgan is just northeast of Helmand province, where NATO and Afghan forces are engaged in a major operation against Taliban insurgents.

So far, at least 16 civilians, about 120 insurgents and 13 NATO troops, including one who died in a roadside bombing Sunday, have been killed in the week-long offensive.

On Sunday, the head of the U.S. Central Command, responsible for all military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, said the ongoing offensive in southern Afghanistan is just the start of a long campaign against the Taliban.

General David Petraeus did not predict how long the operation in Marjah would last, but said allied troops will focus on taking away Taliban safe havens over the next 12 to 18 months.

Two other NATO soldiers were killed in a bomb blast in southern Afghanistan Sunday, but a NATO statement said neither casualty was related to the offensive.

In The Hague Sunday, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende said he expects nearly 2,000 Dutch troops to leave Afghanistan in August, as scheduled.

Mr. Balkenende made the comment a day after his government collapsed, when a main coalition partner said it could not support extending the Afghan mission.

The controversy over the Dutch deployment follows U.S. requests for NATO allies to commit more troops and resources to the Afghan war effort.

Also Sunday, Fox News reported that police in northwestern Pakistan recently arrested one of the top 10 most wanted Afghan Taliban leaders, Mulvi Kabir. He was the governor of Afghanistan's Nangarhar province before the Taliban was ousted in 2001.

The cable TV channel said information leading to Kabir's capture was obtained from Afghanistan's top Taliban military commander Mullah Baradar, whose arrest in the Pakistani city of Karachi was announced last week.
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