Afghanistan war: Taliban hiding behind civilians in Marjah
Taliban insurgents are holding civilians as hostages in the southern Afghan town of Marjah, say Afghan and NATO intelligence reports.
Amid intelligence reports alleging that Taliban insurgents are holding civilians as hostages, American and Afghan forces moved cautiously through the Taliban stronghold of Marjah on Tuesday as they pressed the biggest offensive since the U.S. landed troops in Afghanistan more than eight years ago.Skip to next paragraph
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The U.S.-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) had issued an apology Sunday for the deaths of 12 civilians who were killed in Marjah, saying that an American rocket "failed to hit intended target" and struck a house 300 yards away. U.S. and Afghan forces in a mixed unit had come under sustained fire before American troops fired the rocket.
However, Afghanistan's interior minister, Hanif Atmar, gave a different account Monday, saying that the dead civilians were being held as hostages.
"The Taliban were attacking (the soldiers) from five places. We took a decision to hit the fort (house) but we didn't know they had civilian hostages," Atmar said at a news conference in Lashkar Gah, the capital of Helmand province.
The ISAF later suggested that the coalition's initial apology had been in error. Coalition investigators now think that the rocket hit its target and three insurgents died in the strike in addition to the 12 civilians, ISAF officials said. They're trying to determine whether those Taliban were holding the civilians prisoner.
The soldiers "were taking fire from the house that was hit. In fact there was fire coming from five separate houses, (but) unclear if this was one enemy moving back and forth or five different fire points," said a senior ISAF official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because the information wasn't yet authorized for release.
[The commander of Britain's forces in southern Afghanistan told reporters Tuesday, via video link in Afghanistan, that the missile that struck the house killing 12 people, including six children, had hit the intended target. Maj. Gen. Nick Carter said that the rocket had not malfunctioned nor been incorrectly targeted, according to the Associated Press.]