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Many dead after NATO airstrike hits fuel tankers in Afghanistan

RIA Novosti

11:10 04/09/2009 KABUL, September 4 (RIA Novosti) - Up to 90 people died in north Afghanistan when two fuel tankers exploded after they were hit by a NATO airstrike, the governor of the Kunduz province said on Friday.

Regional reports indicate that as many as 40 of the dead may have been civilians.

"The incident occurred on Thursday evening," Mohammad Omar told the Tolo TV station. "Taliban militants attacked a NATO supply convoy and hijacked two fuel tankers."

"When the Taliban militants and the locals who were helping them began to extract the fuel, NATO aviation arrived and fired at the tankers."

"Most of the dead were Taliban militants and thieves," he added. He also said that the drivers of the tankers had been killed by the Taliban.

The "thieves" cited by Omar are believed to have been local villagers collecting fuel from the tankers.

NATO has said it is looking into the reports of large numbers of civilian deaths. The alliance has come under increasing criticism over growing civilian casualties in the war-torn Central Asian state.

The incident comes a day after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates reiterated Washington's commitment to the Afghan campaign.

"I don't believe that the war is slipping through the administration's fingers," he said at news conference. "I absolutely do not think it is time to get out of Afghanistan."

Militant attacks have continued to mount in Afghanistan, with 51 American troops dying there in August, the highest monthly figure since a U.S.-led force toppled the Taliban in 2001.

Gates also condemned reports of wild parties at the U.S. embassy in Kabul, calling photos of sexual games and drunken revelry posted on the Internet "offensive."

"If those allegations are true, those activities are not just offensive to Afghans and Muslims. They're offensive to us and inexcusable," he said.


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