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Page last updated at 14:10 GMT, Friday, 4 September 2009 15:10 UK

Many die in Afghan tanker blasts

Scene of the blast in Kunduz
The tankers were crossing a river when the air strike took place

Scores of people are reported killed after a Nato air strike blew up two fuel tankers hijacked by the Taliban in northern Afghanistan.

The governor of Kunduz province told the BBC that Taliban leaders were among at least 90 killed. Witnesses said locals taking fuel also died.

Nato said its commanders believed only insurgents were present but that it had reports many civilians were injured.

Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said an investigation was under way.

A statement from Hamid Karzai's office said the Afghan president believed that "targeting civilians in any form is unacceptable and [he] emphasised that innocent civilians must not be killed or wounded during military operations".

'Beheaded'

The Taliban confirmed to the BBC that they had stolen the tankers, one of which became stuck at a river crossing.

The Taliban spokesman said that it was decided to empty the tankers and local people arrived to take some of the fuel.

ANALYSIS
Chris Morris
Chris Morris, BBC News, Afghanistan



If it emerges that a number of civilians have been killed then that will obviously be very disappointing to Nato.

The issue of civilian casualties caused by international military action is extremely sensitive here. It has caused great anger.

It is something military commanders have said they are determined to clamp down on, because they say if they win territory and not the people then they are not doing their job.

At this point, a Nato air strike hit the tankers causing a huge explosion, he said.

The Nato attack occurred about 7km (four miles) south-west of Kunduz city at about 0200 Friday (2130 Thursday GMT).

International Security Assistance Force (Isaf) spokeswoman Lt Cdr Christine Sidenstricker said Afghan forces had reported the fuel trucks hijacked and Nato aircraft had spotted them on a river bank.

"After observing that only insurgents were in the area, the local Isaf commander ordered air strikes which destroyed the fuel trucks and killed a large number of insurgents," she said.

"The strike was against insurgents. That is who we believe was killed."

Later another spokesman, Brig Gen Eric Tremblay, was quoted by Reuters as saying: "It would appear that many civilian casualties are being evacuated and treated in the local hospitals.

"There is perhaps a direct link with the incident that has occurred around the two fuel trucks."

Isaf spokesman Eric Tremblay tells how militants hijacked the trucks

The AFP news agency reported that there were many seriously burned people in a hospital in Kunduz.

One of the drivers of the tankers told the BBC that two of his colleagues had been beheaded when the Taliban carried out the hijacking.

Kunduz province Governor Mohammad Omar said most of the dead were Taliban fighters - some of whom were Chechens.

Witness Mohammad Daud, 32, told AFP the militants had been trying to transport the tankers across a river to villages in Angorbagh.

"They managed to take one of the tankers over the river. The second got stuck so they told villagers to come and take the diesel," he said.

RECENT MAJOR ATTACKS
2 Sep: Blast in Laghman province kills Afghan deputy chief of intelligence and 21 others
25 Aug: Car bomb in southern city of Kandahar kills at least 40
18 Aug: Nine Afghans and a Nato soldier die and more than 50 are injured in Kabul
15 Aug: Bomb outside Nato HQ in Kabul kills seven and injures 90
13 Aug: Twin blasts in Helmand and Kandahar kill 14, including several children
6 Aug: Five American and three UK soldiers, five civilians and five policemen killed by roadside bombs mainly in Helmand
3 Aug: Bomb in Herat city kills 12

"Villagers rushed to the fuel tanker with any available container that they had.

"There were 10 to 15 Taliban on top of the tanker. This was when they were bombed. Everyone around the fuel tanker died."

Mr Rasmussen said the leader of international troops in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, had told President Karzai he was committed to investigating the incident.

"It is really a focal point for our Isaf troops to minimise the number of civilian casualties, and a new strategy to that end has already been introduced," Mr Rasmussen said.

"Civilian casualties caused by Isaf are down over 95% from last year's levels. But, as we all know, in conflicts like these, mistakes can happen. In this case, let us now see what the investigation concludes."

The incident came days after Gen McChrystal reiterated calls for a fresh approach to the conflict.

"The situation in Afghanistan is serious, but success is achievable and demands a revised implementation strategy, commitment and resolve, and increased unity of effort," he wrote in a strategic assessment.

Satellite image showing the area of the air strike



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