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Taliban Bombs 'Slow Afghan Push'   
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Improvised bombs planted by Taliban fighters are slowing Nato's big offensive in Afghanistan, military officials say. The BBC's Frank Gardner, in Kandahar, says the homemade bombs have been planted in far greater numbers than Nato had anticipated.

Operation Moshtarak targeting Taliban strongholds in southern Helmand province has entered its third day. Earlier, the Nato commander apologised after rockets killed 12 civilians. Gen Stanley McChrystal said he "deeply regretted this tragic loss of life" and suspended use of the rocket launching system pending a "thorough review".

Our correspondent says roadside bombs have slowed the advance of US troops in the area around Marjah. Insurgents still in the area are believed to be concentrated in Marjah, while those in the British taskforce area of Nad Ali, to the north east, are thought to have either put down their weapons or retreated north.

Nato intelligence chiefs believe the Taliban could be holding off attacks for a few days while they wait to see if Nato and Afghan forces are staying or leaving.

Nato and Afghan commanders insist they now have enough troops to hold the ground taken and will soon be bringing in hundreds of newly trained police to provide security, our correspondent adds. Operation Moshtarak, meaning "together" in the Dari language, is the biggest coalition attack since the Taliban fell in 2001.

The operation is also considered the first big test of US President Barack Obama's new "surge" strategy for Afghanistan. Moving into the centre of the town of Marjah on Sunday, US marines and Afghan soldiers came under intense fire from Taliban fighters.

Insurgents were believed to be holed up in a nearby compound, so two rockets were fired by a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HMARS), a truck-mounted multiple rocket launcher. The rockets, however, veered off course and hit a house about 300m (980ft) from their intended target, killing 12 civilians, according to Nato.

President Hamid Karzai has called for an investigation into the deaths. Ten of those killed were from the same family, his office said. Gen McChrystal said: "The current operation in Central Helmand is aimed at restoring security and stability to this vital area of Afghanistan.

"It's regrettable that in the course of our joint efforts, innocent lives were lost. We extend our heartfelt sympathies and will ensure we do all we can to avoid future incidents." The use of the HMARS involved has been suspended pending review.

Our correspondent says the deaths are very damaging for a campaign aimed at protecting the local population and driving a wedge between them and the insurgents.It is exactly the kind of incident that Afghanistan leaders had said must be avoided and which they know can play straight into the Taliban's hands, he adds.

In the meantime, the progress in Marjah is slow and painstaking, and officials say the town may not be cleared out for weeks. US Marines commander Brig Gen Larry Nicholson told the AFP news agency his forces had "blown up a lot of IEDs" and come up against "a lot of sniper fire".

He said it could take up to 30 days to make the area safe. To the north in Nad Ali district, British forces appear to be facing less resistance, says the BBC's Martin Patience in Kabul.They have also started reaching out to residents, assuring them of their intentions and hoping to build trust, and to local elders by holding meetings with them and promising to bring large numbers of police, our correspondent says.

Operation Moshtarak began before dawn on Saturday when more than 15,000 troops flew into central Helmand. US forces, led by 4,000 Marines, are focusing on Marjah, while 4,000 British troops are in Nad Ali. A large Afghan force, as well as Canadians, Danes and Estonians, is also involved.

Three Isaf deaths related to Operation Moshtarak have been confirmed.
On Saturday, a British soldier, Lance Sergeant David Greenhalgh of 1st Battalion Grenadier Guards, died in an improvised explosive device (IED) attack, while a US soldier was killed by gunfire in Marjah.

On Sunday, another service member was killed in an IED attack.
At least 20 Taliban fighters were killed and another 11 detained on Saturday, an Afghan commander said.The chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm Mike Mullen, said the assault had got "off to a good start". "It's actually very difficult to predict [the end]. We have from a planning standpoint talked about a few weeks, but I don't know that," he added.
Source: BBC

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