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Afghan Civilian Deaths Climb in Anti-Taliban Offensive

VOA News 16 February 2010

Three more Afghan civilians lost their lives Tuesday in a major NATO-led offensive against the Taliban in the southern province of Helmand.

NATO says two civilians were killed in separate incidents after ignoring warnings to stop approaching NATO forces. A third man died after reportedly getting caught in the crossfire between coalition forces and insurgents.

NATO commanders say protecting civilians is a major priority in the effort to push the Taliban out of the area. That effort suffered a setback Sunday when coalition rockets hit a home in Marjah, killing 12 civilians.

In a separate incident reported Tuesday, a NATO air strike killed five civilians in neighboring Kandahar province.

About 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops are involved in the offensive, the biggest joint operation since the war in Afghanistan began in late 2001.

Taliban snipers and roadside bombs have slowed the advance of Marines and Afghan soldiers, although Afghan officials say the insurgents are on the run.

Senior officers also admit that allied troops are taking heavy fire and coming under sniper attacks in some areas, and that roadside bombs have considerably slowed down their advance.

Afghan officials said Monday that the Marjah offensive killed at least 35 militants during the first two days of combat.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and AP.

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