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Afghanistan condemns deadly Nato air strike in Uruzgan

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Afghanistan's government has condemned a Nato air strike on a convoy of vehicles in the south of the country, which killed at least 27 civilians.

Nato said it had hit a suspected insurgent convoy, but troops then found "a number of individuals killed and wounded", including women and children.

Sunday's attack, in Uruzgan province, was not part of a major Nato-led push in neighbouring Helmand province.

Civilian deaths in strikes have caused widespread resentment in Afghanistan.

After initial reports put the death-toll at 33, a revised statement lowered the figure to 27, including four women and one child.

Meanwhile, a suicide attack in the eastern province of Nangahar has killed at least 15 people including influential Afghan tribal chief Mohammad Haji Zaman.

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'Avoid mistakes'

The Afghan government condemned Sunday's air strike, calling it "unjustifiable" and "a major obstacle" to effective counter-terrorism efforts.

The cabinet also called on Nato "to closely co-ordinate and exercise maximum care before conducting any military operation so that any possible mistakes that may result in harming civilians... can be avoided".

ANALYSIS
Chris Morris
By Chris Morris, BBC News, Kabul

People feel that is exactly the kind of incident that pushes people towards the Taliban - so just what Nato didn't want at this time. Nato has been quick to express its regret.

Maj Gen Nick Carter, the commander of Nato forces in southern Afghanistan, told the BBC he will be travelling to Uruzgan to visit the wounded.

He said any loss of life was deeply tragic and entirely counter-productive for the Nato mission.

Nato has launched an inquiry into the attack, and the commander of the international forces in Afghanistan, Gen Stanley McChrystal, has apologised to Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Last year, Gen McChrystal introduced much tougher rules of engagement in a bid to minimise such casualties.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Kabul says three vehicles on a road were hit by the strike on Sunday morning.

A Nato statement said it was thought the convoy contained Taliban insurgents on their way to attack Afghan and foreign military forces.

But local officials say all the dead were civilians. A spokesman for the Uruzgan governor, Nisar Ahmad Khetab, said the Taliban control the area.

Government collapse

Uruzgan province is where the Dutch mission to Afghanistan has been based since 2006, with nearly 2,000 service personnel.

Over the weekend, the Dutch government collapsed over disagreements in the governing coalition on extending deployments in Afghanistan beyond August this year.

BOTCHED AFGHAN AIR RAIDS
Sep 2009: Up to 142 civilians die in Kunduz province when hijacked fuel tankers are bombed
May 2009: US says 26 civilians died in raid in Farah province; Afghan officials say 140 died
Nov 2008: Raid on a Kandahar village destroys a housing complex leaving nearly 40 civilians dead
Aug 2008: Up to 90 people, including 60 children, killed in Herat province, UN says
July 2008: Raid in Nangarhar mistakenly kills about 50 civilians at a wedding party

Our correspondent says the strike was not linked to the Nato-led Operation Moshtarak which is continuing in Helmand province, to the south of Uruzgan.

Last week, 12 civilians died in that offensive - whose name means "together" in Dari - when ground-launched rockets hit a home.

About 15,000 Nato and Afghan troops are involved in Moshtarak, now in its second week, and the largest operation since the Taliban were overthrown in 2001.

The head of US Central Command, Gen David Petraeus, said on Sunday the operation, part of a revised strategy for combating insurgents, would probably last up to 18 months.



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