Airstrike Kills at least 21 Afghan Civilians

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MARJAH, Afghanistan - At least 21 civilians traveling in a convoy were killed by an airstrike on Sunday near the town of Marjah in southern Afghanistan.

NATO forces, who believed the three mini-busses were transporting Taliban gunmen, fired on the convoy, killing women and children. NATO and the Afghan officials have launched an investigation into the mishap.

Meanwhile, outnumbered Taliban gunmen in Marjah are continuing to fight allied forces in the nine-day-old operation, the largest since the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

Backed by attack helicopters, UAVs and jet fighters, Marines and Afghan troops moved toward a two-square-mile area where some 40 Taliban fighters are believed to be holed up.

"They are squeezed," said Lt. Col. Brian Christmas, commander of the Sixth Marine Regiment's Third Battalion. "It looks like they want to stay and fight, but they can always drop their weapons and slip away. That's the nature of this war," he said.

Taliban insurgents, who sewed booby traps and explosive devices throughout Marjah, fired at allied forces from their entrenched positions in the city.

Afghan Defense Ministry spokesman Gen. Mohammad Zahir Azimi told The Associated Press they expected the Taliban to booby trap the area but  thought most of them would have fled by now.

"We predicted it would take many days," Azimi said, "but our prediction was that the insurgency would not resist that way."

NATO forces issued a statement on Sunday saying the operation is "on track" despite the Taliban's "determined resistance."


AP contributed to this report.

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