US apologizes after errant rocket strike kills 10 civilians in Afghanistan

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Marja (Afghanistan), Feb 15(ANI): An errant US rocket hit a compound sheltering Afghan civilians in the last Taliban stronghold in Helmand Province on Sunday, killing at least 10 people, including five children.

According to US military officials, the strike came after American Marines and Afghan soldiers had been taking intense small-arms fire from a mud-walled compound in the area.

The military said in a statement that coalition troops were aiming at a compound from which Taliban militants were firing on Western and Afghan forces, but the two rockets missed their target by about 300 yards, instead hitting a compound where civilians were sheltering.aptain Joshua Biggers, the commander of Company K, Third Battalion, Sixth Marines, which had been engaged in the battle, accepted the mistake made by their troops and said: "The compound that was hit was not the one we were targeting."

Avoiding such civilian deaths has been a cornerstone of the war strategy by the top American commander, General Stanley A. McChrystal, who later apologized to Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai.

"We deeply regret this tragic loss of life," The New York Times quoted Gen. McChrystal, as saying.

Officers said that the barrage had been fired from Camp Bastion by a weapons system known as Himars, an acronym for High Mobility Artillery Rocket System.

Its munitions are GPS-guided and advertised as being accurate enough to strike within a yard of their intended targets.

General McChrystal further said in a statement that he was suspending use of the weapon system "until a thorough review of this incident has been conducted."

The Marja operation is the first major military confrontation since US President Barack Obama ordered the deployment of an additional 30,000 US troops late last year.

The main thrust of the offensive is to ease the way for permanent government rule in the area, which has remained a durable Taliban stronghold in the years since the 2001 American invasion.

Despite the heavy fighting, reports of allied casualties have been low. The casualty included a non-American soldier, who was killed on Sunday by a homemade bomb in southern Afghanistan.

A senior Afghan commander, Gen. Sher Mohammed Zazai, said that there had been no deaths of Afghan troops, who make up the bulk of the combined force.

One American Marine and one British Marine were reported killed on the first day. (ANI)

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